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Bacterial Blessings: Bacteria that have been helping us in many ways

We are not entirely human. Steven Gill, molecular biologist proved this fact through his studies. He asserts that many bacteria are present in our body that are taking care of us. These microbes are really important for our body functions like digestion and immune system. It is really surprising to know that we are like an amalgam, a mixture of bacteria and human cells. Bacteria is native to our body and may provide clues to to our diseases, nutrition, obesity and how well drugs work on us. It is unbelievable, but true that ninety percent of the cells in our body are actually bacteria.

Probiotic Bacteria 

Idli, dosa and uttapam that we take for breakfast among others are fermented by bacteria. These types of microbes are known as ‘probiotic’ because they are protective as well as therapeutic against variety of disorders. The bacteria bring about desirable alterations in food quality and fermentation preserves and predigests the food. Probiotic food items have been used as preventive supplements for many ailments including gastro intestinal disturbances and cancers .

The microbes may be useful to prevent alcohol induced liver damage, a common condition in many societies.  Studies suggest that oral probiotics could be superior to conventional therapy in the treatment of hepatic encephalopathy, a common and dreaded complication of liver disease. India has probably the most diverse fermented foods like idli, dosa, dhokla, khaman, bhatura, kulcha and the traditional dahi. Fermented foods especially dairy products contain certain strains of bacteria that promote the health of gastro intestinal tract.  The probiotics deprive pathogens of nutrients necessary for their growth.

A cup of yogurt has more live beneficial microflora than a cup of cooked fermented foods. Lacto bacillus, a bacteria in milk may supress the growth of Helicobacter pylori, which causes peptic ulcer. The microbes also promote bone density by absorption of calcium and magnesium from the intestine . Some of this bacteria can break the milk protein casein into smaller units and provide relief from different allergies or intestinal inflammations. Studies have revealed that probiotic bacteria help to increase immunoglobulin levels in infants. Fermentation of milk produces certain peptides that inhibit an enzyme that tends to increase blood pressure. Some epidemiological studies also suggest that consumption of fermented dairy products may have protective effect against cancers.

Cleaning up the Environment 

There are few bacteria that clean up the Environment by removing pollutants from it. These microbes are Rhodopseudomonas palustris, which cleans industrial effluents like chlorine, carcinogenic benzene and its derivatives and carbon dioxide responsible for global warming. When the light falls on this bacteria it produces ammonia and hydrogen by fixing atmospheric nitrogen. We know very well that ammonia increases soil fertility and enhances the crop yields. In addition to that the hydrogen produced could be used as biofuel. Scientists wonder that what makes this bacterium a biocatalyst that is never energy limited as long as light shines on it.

Leptospirillium ferrooxidans and Thiobacillus ferrooxidans have been used to purify one of the most abundant fossil fuel of earth, coal. Coal has many impurities when obtained from mines such as sulphur, oxides of nitrgen and heavy metals which pollute our environment. These microbes digest these pollutants to produce environmental friendly fuel.

Anticancer Drug through Bacterium 

It was revealed by Robert Dudler and his team of the Munich Technical University that a genetically modified form of bacterium, Pseudomonas syringae py. Syringe (Pss), infects numerous plants and could help uncover a class of anticancer drugs for humans. The bacterium causes a brown spot on common green beans leading to formation of a compound called syringolin-A which boost the microbe’s virulence. They were suprised to know that this compound enters the plant host cells and prevents a protein called proteosome, from doing its job. Studies have shown that this compound syringolin-A has the capacity to shrink certain cancers, opening the doors to the possibility that this and similar molecules might be developed to cure various types of cancers.

Rain-making Bacteria 

The bacteria that cause frost damage on plants can help clouds to produce rain. Aerosols are also known to cause rain through condensation of the mineral particles. Air borne bacteria like fungi and tiny algae does their job in similar way. Unlike mineral surface , living organisms can catalyse ice formation even at temperatures close to zero degree Celsius.

A microbiologist Brent Christner and his team at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge has catalogued these rain making bacteria at fresh snow collected at mid and high altitude locations in Europe, North America and Antarctica. After various experiments the researchers were suprised to find rain making bacteria in all samples. The samples of snow collected from Antarctica had fewer bacteria than from France and Montana.

Biological particles do seem to play a very important role in generating snow fall and rain especially at relatively warm and cloud  temperatures . Scientists believe that the freezing ability also means that bacteria get out of clouds and comes back to the Earth more quickly.

Helps in curing the Sweat

Apart from social isolation and mental strain, excessive sweating can trigger skin disease like itching, rashes and other infections. Scientists have discovered a way to check sweating in humans using bacterium Clostridium botulinum which controls the function of sweat glands and sweating can be checked.

It is also found that compounds in urine that points to some surprising differences affecting blood pressure is based not on genes but on what people eat and their gut bacteria. Urine samples from 4630 people from various countries were collected by scientists and surprising links to blood pressure differences were found. Bacteria in intestines and colon help to digest and breakdown food and some of the compounds they release have drug like effects and these can be linked with blood pressure differences. Thus Humans and their gut bacteria have truly symbiotic relationship.

Deadly diseases like tuberculosis, typhoid, anthrax, cholera etc are caused by bacteria. So our natural instinct would be to look upon all bacteria as extremely dangerous organisms. But there are innumerable bacteria that have been helping us in the number of ways. Let us hope in the years to come, more helpful bacteria may develop to take care of us.