Reef Raff

We have already heard that microscopic organisms outnumber us in a global scale and live in and on our bodies in places so private it would make us blanch if we could see them languishing there. This sure knowledge has made it easy for me to willfully ignore every new and breathless description that urges me to marvel at how we teem with unseen life.

I simply can’t afford to comprehend it.

True awareness of exactly how many tiny monsters I harbor would trigger an “Ish Factor” reaction that would be personally catastrophic. And yet it appears we are bound to know, regardless. Researchers now say the number of hangers-on is something on the order of 100 Trillion.

The good news – it’s a functioning community. Everyone hosts a distinct “microbiome” that may help determine what diseases you get and which ones you’re able to fight off. Be kind to your friendly neighborhood bacteria – they surround you. Maybe that’s the real “cloud of witnesses” following us around in Hebrews 12:1 – not dead predecessors, but very alive hitchhikers.

But these are the lines that stood out for me inside a New York Times article:

Dr. Barnett Kramer, director of the division of cancer prevention at the National Cancer Institute, who was not involved with the research project, had another image. Humans, he said, in some sense are made mostly of microbes. From the standpoint of our microbiome, he added, β€œwe may just serve as packaging.”

“Humans”, said Dr. David Relman, a Stanford microbiologist, are like coral, β€œan assemblage of life-forms living together.”

I have never thought of myself as a walking sack of microbial congregations, and certainly not as a coral reef.

I guess when Simon and Garfunkel sang “I Am A Rock”, they were right about being an island and a fortress. But they were wrong about being alone.

How do you get along with the residents of your microbiome?

62 thoughts on “Reef Raff”

  1. If all theories hold true, I am taking my microbial guests on a trip to Michigan next week. To the tip of the ring finger, staying in a time-share with family, which they are providing. It appears that the location does not offer any online connection. So I may, if we go and if they don’t, not be on the Trail for a few days starting tomorrow or Sunday.
    There’s a wonderful episode of “Northern Exposure” about this. As I recall Maggie freaks out and Chris in the Morning sculpts one.


        1. As far as I can tell, you must be going to the place where a strip of land sticks out into Lake Michigan West of the the top end of Michigan’s lower peninsular, is that right Clyde?


    1. I rememer that one – Maggie tries to purge her house of all microbes… Reminds me of an in-law, but let’s not go there.


  2. me and my hitchhikers have an understanding. we look after each other. i used to be normal and accept the premise that cleanliness is next to godliness but times have changed. today instead of head and shoulders or aveda i use water for my hair (what i have left), today instead of deciding between the pumice in the irish spring vs the softness of tone, i use water for my body after a hard days work or a hard workout, on my kitchen ware i do use soap in both the sink and the dishwasher but i also treasure my iron skillet collection where soap is never allowed. a rinse and a scrub with a rubber scouring pad are as hypoallergenic as it gets.
    my mom says my family never gets sick because we embrace the germs in the house and eat a piece of cheese that has touched the floor and a dont worry too much about fork that has touched the counter needing to be washed before it can touch our lips. my kids have come up with their own odd food quirks, one will eat nothing left over and another checks food dates all the times and proclaims things unfit a bit early in my book but all in all we mudde through quite nicely

    another day, in a deep and dark june evening
    i am alone
    looking from my bathtub to the street below
    on a freshly fallen puddle down below
    i dont wear socks
    my wife dont wear ny—-lons

    i take baths
    quite frequently for pleasure
    and none may intercede
    i have no need for lifeboy
    no need for irish spring
    its just water and a washcloth that i bring
    i wear no socks
    my wife wears no ny—–lons

    dont talk of hygene
    ive heard that talk before
    my bodies diing fine
    i wont use antibacterial
    soap of any kind
    that fight is all in
    soap producers minds
    i dont wear socks
    my wife dont wear ny—–lons

    i have my germs
    in my life to wrap around me
    i am shielded in my ingnorance
    hiding on my body are many little friends
    who jump aboard and party to all ends
    i dont wear socks my wife dont wear ny—-lons
    and a sock feels no pain
    and old nylons never die


  3. Good morning. I am more or less in agreement with tim. However, I do take precautions when it comes to food and avoid eating any that might be close to spoiling or that has been exposed to unsanitary conditions. I will use hand sanitizers if offered to me before eating a meal at a restaurant, but I don’t do that when eating alone or with people who don’t use them. I think there might be some truth to the warning that excessive sanitation might promote the development of more harmful microbes by creating new strains that resist sanitation.


  4. Dale, I love the image of a cloud of bacterial witnesses. We are pretty healthy in our house, so I think we must have a balance of bacteria and anti-bacteria. We have pets, who provide all sorts of germy challenges and opportunities, a dishwasher, which is essential for preventing contagion, and absolutely no fancy antibacterial cleansers, which I think make us weaker and the bacteria stronger.


  5. I am always amazed by the great diversity that can be found in nature. This information about the very large number of kinds of microbes found on our bodies is another example of the tremendous assortment of organisms found all around us. People should become more humble and respectful of the natural world. I’m afraid we are in danger of destroying large parts of it and wiping ourselves out at the same times.


  6. So far so good! I’ve gotten along reasonably well the inhabitants of my microbiome. I grew up before vaccines for everything under the sun were developed, so I had every conceivable childhood disease imaginable. Mumps, chickenpox, scarlet fever, had ’em all. Was lucky enough to dodge the polio epidemic that ravaged so many lives in the early 1950s. Like tim, I believe that too much sanitation isn’t necessarily a good thing and don’t get me going on antibiotics! I’m fortunate enough not to suffer from allergies, although I’m terribly sensitive to air pollution. After two weeks in China I got an upper respiratory infection so severe it cost me my hearing in my right ear, and after a few hours in my sister’s apartment, my eyes are watery and my throat scratchy. She’s a smoker and although she’s considerate enough not to smoke indoors when I’m around, apparently the residue in her curtains, upholstery, clothes and who knows where else, is enough for the critters in my microbiome to revolt.


  7. I sometimes think that modern medicine is a two edged sword. We’re too readily prepared to let drugs mask or reduce bothersome symptoms of the slightest ailment. When I see the ads on TV for prescription drugs and listen to the litany of serious side effects, some of them deadly, I wonder who in their right mind would take those drugs. Everything from a sore throat, to a runny nose, to feeling sad or not being able to sleep are treated with medications when often a natural remedy would do the trick. I think it behooves us to learn to listen to our bodies more and heed the signals we receive from it.


  8. When daughter was just months old there was a lot in the news about how kids now live in houses that are too clean – one theory about the increase in asthma was that kids were growing up without enough ambient dirt and germs so their immune systems weren’t developing well. For a new mom this was fabulous news – all that dust and fur, why that was good for my child’s developing immune system. Bathtub not cleaned with anti-microbial goo? Heck, that’s insurance against illnesses that would take her out of school when she’s learning important stuff like division. And she has been a remarkably healthy child – her docs comment on how little they see her (in a good way), and even the school nurse figures it’s good she didn’t really know who my kid was until this year (when she saw her twice times – once for a lost tooth, once for a low fever…figured if she was in saying she didn’t feel well and this was a kid she never saw, that it probably meant she *really* didn’t feel well).

    I am at peace with my microbes. We have a happy community – it’s not a democracy, but there is a level of detente that keeps us all happy.


  9. A winter’s day
    in a deep and dark refrigerator
    I am alone
    Gazing at this green stuff that used to look like food
    In a small and encrusted little tube
    I am bacillus
    I am bacterium

    I filled my cupboards
    a fortress deep and mighty
    that none may penetrate
    I have no need of Pinesol, its fumes are much too strong
    Its sanitation and sterility don’t belong
    I am bacillus
    I am bacterium

    Don’t talk of bathroom floors
    For I’ve seen that mess before
    It’s sticky where my feet rest
    I won’t disturb the throw rug that’s been there since last fall
    If I pick it up I’ll have to clean the walls
    I am bacillus
    I am bacterium

    I have my rubber gloves
    and my cleaning rags to protect me
    I’m strengthened by immunity
    Going forth among them, exposed to their diversity
    I touch them all and don’t they cling to me
    I am bacillus
    I am bacterium


  10. For the most part we get along just fine. What makes me sad is when people don’t let kids det dirty in the name of health and safety. If you don’t get a little of the stuff, your body has no chance to develop its own immunities, causing far more viruses and diseases to enter your body.

    I am rarely sick, and if I do get a cold I try to slow down, drink lemon honey tea and get more rest until it’s passed. I do believe we’re “painting ourselves into a corner” as the organisms we try to eradicate just evolve around our antibacterials.

    There are a number of good books on homemade, natural cleaners that don’t harm us or the world, and I just found at the library a Mayo Clinic Book of Home Remedies. People who might not otherwise trust them may learn some common sense solutions to common issues.


  11. I have relatives who not long ago had a child, their first child. They were what you might call uptight new parents. The mother of one of them made a friendly offer to hold their infant. When that person held hands out to take the infant, the uptight mother recoiled in shock and said, “You surely don’t mean to touch the baby without washing your hands first do you?”


    1. After watching PJ’s not scary video, I found this one. Animation is terrible but it talks about the only area in which I try to keep clean – cross contamination from raw meat to veggies. Otherwise, I follow the casualness that seems to be the most common Way of Baboons.


  12. Good Afternoon Awl Jahl:

    I am comfortable with little bugs and a moderately clean house–my kitchen floor does not pass my mother’s or grandmother’s standard of “so clean you could eat off it.”. They both kept the floor that clean and never once ate off it. I chose a grey mottled floor that does not show the kitchen dirt. One of the most unsanitary things in the world though, is wall-to-wall carpet. That is bad for allergies. I do have a terrible time with respiratory bugs–sinus infections, bronchitis, walking pneumonia–they all have my name on them. My respiratory system is a destination vacation for those bugs, and my immune system is just a girl who can’t say no. Cough.


  13. i get a kick out of the alarms that go off every so often about sleeping on a mattress in a hotel or the new york city scare about microscopic critters that they found are everywhere in nyc. i would guess that these little critters have gone through evolution with us and will continue with or without us. my children feel the same way bout their parents. i saw justin bieber on the today show this morning and if i could go through life without touching the youth of america i would be ok with that. i hate that too cool fashion statement crap. gloves with the fingers cut off and hugging anne curry for a close up picture so she could have something to cherish. urrp. i dont like it when i find the mice have gotten into the sunflowere seeds i left on the front seat but i will usually finish the bag. but the time i found the mouse in my bottle of olive oil i did throw out the whole bottle. i dont think the mouse was too happy about being asked to leave the warmth of my cupboard but i decided to let him try it on his own out there int he cold cruel world with a belly fully of olive oil.


    1. I’m trying to visualize how the mouse got into the olive oil bottle but visualization eludes me. Are you sure you didn’t just dream that?


      1. a friend was coming over for diner and it kinda screwed up the meal plan for the evening.i kept the oil in the cupboard above the stove and the mouse came in form the attic and i had left the top off the olive oil bottle and there was a mouse who had gone in and was scratching at the walls trying to get out. quite unnerving


  14. Just in from having a conversation with my neighbor across the back fence while being attacked by mosquitoes. I swallowed one, disgusting to me, but I think there will be a party in my microbiome tonight.


    1. tim, OS, original sentence, was up to the comma. I added the so late to the party, thought it could have referred to me or BiR.Too lazy to move cursor so added the “am I” liked the sound of it. Maybe channeling Seuss or Jack Horner? Obviously too tired to catch “your vs you.” TMI
      short answer, progression


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