Bacteria have rights too!

Before you start laughing, please consider this: isn’t it at least a bit appalling to grow hundreds of millions of innocent little creatures just to be able to harvest a part of their DNA?

During my internship, I’ve grown countless erlenmeyers of bacteria just to harvest a plasmid or a phage. It’s something you do thoughtlessly, just inoculate some broth with a bit of your freezer stock and the next day you’ll be able to harvest. However, they still remain living organisms and don’t always do what you want. As a rule, if you’d like them to grow not too much, they always grow extremely fast, and if you’d like them to grow fast, they always take their time and you can spend hours waiting until they FINALLY duplicate.

Of course, I kill millions of bacteria just by doing the dishes. That’s not the point. I’m merely wondering -how far have we gone, using other organisms as a source for ‘ingredients’…

It’s not just bacteria, there are also a lot of immortalized cell lines (some stemming from aborted fetuses) that we use for virulence studies. These studies are very valuable – and yet, these cells living in plastic bottles, it feels wrong. These cells were once part of a multicellular organism and now they’re living their lives as individuals in medium that sort of replicates their native circumstances. What did they ever do to us?

Researchers using animals often say that they never forget to respect them – by their sacrifice we can study virulence, physiology, cures for diseases, etcetera. Perhaps we as microbiologists shouldn’t forget to respect our bacteria…

Does this sound stupid? Personally, I don’t think so. I still do a miniprep on my E.coli. But sometimes I pause to think about the ‘order of nature’, what force gave us humans the power to do this to entire cultures of organisms… And of course, the Creator who made this all possible, comes to mind. Let’s not forget the One by whose virtue we’re allowed to explore all of this… but I wonder whether he actually meant us to do this to his creation.

Disclaimer: The last sentence was not meant to condone research on animals  / eating meat / the bio industry / etc. etc., I’m just trying to express the sense of wonder I feel when doing research. I’m not one of those people who feels they can do everything just because God made us stewards over all of nature – it’s all in the word – STEWARDS. That word perfectly sums up my feelings about bacteria I think :).

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2 Comments on “Bacteria have rights too!”

  1. As someone with an immune deficiency, I no longer think that human beings are on top of the food chain. We are but hosts. I just read a book about viruses that said only one in ten on the cells in and on our bodies are human – the rest are microorganisms. I think it is good to be aware that we wield power over the “lower” realms often at our own peril.

    • CT says:

      Indeed! We’re slowly starting to unravel the functions that bacteria play – apparently, the composition of our commensal ‘microbiome’ is very important, people who have Crohn’s disease often have altered bacterial populations in their guts. And it’s now finnaaaaaally acknowledged dat antibiotics can have very deterimental effects on gut flora (of course, sometimes antibiotics are necessary, but it took quite long to realize that some bacteria were actually beneficial).


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