Bacteria become resistant to our antibiotics. Viruses evolve with blinding
speed. Prions may lurk in our meat. Anthrax is put into our mail.
Stranger yet, could microbes be causing other illnesses, like cancers and heart attacks?
We're going to make Cipro useless, and that was the big danger of this particular, very mild attack with anthrax.
It's no wonder there's a common fallacy in our society: "we must beat the
microbes!" But maintaining a microbial balance of power is the key to a
sustainable world: without microbes in the soil there would be no
agriculture; without microbes in our cells processing oxygen, we would not
be able to breathe. And just as microbes naturally evolve to combat others,
we can now engineer beneficial microbes to evolve to combat dangerous microbes.
The threats are real: antibiotic drugs can spawn species of superbugs when
natural mutations cause drug resistance; biowarfare can deliberately
introduce lethal microorganisms toxic to human life; and bacteria and
viruses may play a part in some cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and
dementias. But surprising strategies including the use of probiotics (the
opposite of antibiotics) could just as well keep the balance of power in our
favor, plus dramatically improve health in third-world countries.
Delve deeper into this episode’s content.
Paul Ewald Ph.D.
Prof. Biology, U. Kentucky
Autism & heart diseases caused by infectious agents?
Alice Huang Ph.D.
Microbiologist, Sr. Councilor, External Relations, Caltech
When cleanliness can be a detriment.