You and your mouth might well make 5,000. That's species, and it may be an undercount of the different tribes of microbes that just live between your lips and your tonsils. Your brother or neighbor or the stranger you see in a video from China may not have the same ones, but they each have oodles of co-voyagers. A different mix is in your colon, another your scalp, and so on. Yikes, yuck, and yippee for them. Between infections that make us feverish or worse, the vast bulk of them are part of a collective army we've evolved not only to tolerate, but to need for full health. It's not just bacteria, but fungi and even viruses that work together - if not by volition but rather by selection - on our behalf (mostly).
That's not exactly news, but Carl Zimmer's section fronting-story wraps up the growing respect it has from physicians who talk of our individual microbiomes and of 'medical ecology' as a wise way to think about health. He has several studies to cite, knitting examples into the sensation of having taken a good tour led by a wise docent. If enough people run into this sort of message while still young, maybe we'll have fewer obsessive hand-washers and knuckle-tappers who refuse to shake hands with anybody, and fewer parents in a cold panic that if their wee darlings go play in the dirt or merely walk barefoot down the sidewalk they'll get germs - nasty critters, every one - all over them.
Other headlines to note:
- Claudia Dreifus: The Body's Protein Cleaning Machine ; Q. & A. - a lovely a dramatic sketch of the scientific life, specifically of a revered and decorated biochemist. Part of the drama arises from a common literary and historical hook, one that would be cliche were it not impossible for it to lose its power: the Holocaust. But mostly it is about driven curiosity, diligence, organization, the company of other bright people, and a broad view of what life brings.
- Dennis Overbye - A Career Waiting for E.T. to Phone ; A column on Jill Tarter, the SETI Institute research director who is now retiring from that post, but sure to keep busy refining the search for alien civilizations that might be betraying their presence one way or the other. As everybody who follows such things knows, and as he mentions, she was role model for Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) in the movie 'Contact.' He does mention that she learned to fly just so she could get quicker to an observatory near Mount Lassen where a special array is listening for signals. Hmm - might have mentioned that her husband Jack Welch was already flying the two of them back and forth in their small plane and is a SETI nut too. It's a timely piece. (For a deeper conversation with her, see a recent Q&A with her by Nadia Drake at Science News.)
- Guy Gugliotta: Discovery of a £16 Advance Sheds Light on John Cabot’s Adventures ; Not much science, but Gugliotta is in the tribe plus the tale is intriguing and for most of us a glimpse into a history we didn't know we didn't know.
As usual, lots more. Whole Section ;
- Charlie Petit