Tag Archives: ecology

Pollution and Gut Bacteria: A Different Take


Our planet is becoming increasingly toxic, as we add more chemicals to its  air, rivers, lakes and ocean every day. While laws designed to curb pollution have probably helped, they don’t prevent things like massive oil spills or the release of antibiotic or hormone residues from farm animals and humans. You see, all of those pharmaceutical products used to produce a steak from an overcrowded, stressed and diseased animal, almost all of those substances get passed by the animal, and run downstream-eventually to lakes and oceans. Toxic materials such as arsenic and mercury are common. The yellow water in the image above is from a mine leak in Colorado (image from The Durango Herald). The water debacle in Flint, Michigan is just one example of how toxins are present. With those admittedly grim thoughts in mind, what are the most adaptable organisms on the planet? Yes, bacteria. With the ability to share DNA in horizontal transfer and a gene pool replete with ways to break down poisons, bacteria have been at the toxin-vs-detoxify game for over a billion years. What if the bacteria that live inside our bodies could help us to detoxify? Perhaps a different way to ask the same question would be to ask why, given a somewhat consistent toxin exposure in a given neighborhood or community, do some people develop toxicity while others do not? As it turns out, some of our beneficial symbionts (Lactobacillus) can do exactly that. A study found that these bacteria can break down pesticides, and reduced the accumulation of arsenic and mercury in pregnant women and children. That should be pretty good news, right? It is if you make efforts to keep these organisms present. They are often reduced or absent due to antibiotic use/abuse and poor nutritional choices. Ironically, the poor people that are often exposed to these toxins also tend not to buy organic produce or have the educational background required to make the right choices. Instead, they are the victims of our capitalistic dark side, believing that it’s normal to eat McDonalds or Wendy’s on a regular basis and consume Pepsi or Coke instead of water. Elective C-section births are very common, and many new mothers are not taught the benefits or techniques of breastfeeding. The combination of c-section and bottle feeding robs a newborn of the microbiome needed for optimal brain and immune system development. Now we can also say it leaves this child more vulnerable to the effects of pesticides and toxins. This affects all of us in one way or another, and it is simply wrong on many levels to allow it to continue.

One long-term result of the intergenerational demise of the microbiome is that while our planet is accumulating toxins and poisons, our microbiome which could help us to detoxify those substances is on the way down. As the “modern” world infects virginal areas and their indigenous people, bringing them antibiotics and Coca-Cola, the core ancestral microbiome becomes an endangered entity.

It is vitally important that more people understand how the microbiome is necessary for so many aspects of life. It is also important to put in place limitations on drug and chemical releases into the environment, as the current system is not a bucket but a sieve, giving the illusion of containment from a distance but constantly leaking in many directions. Even our nuclear power plants in the USA have joined Fukushima in leaking radioactive waste into the ocean (Indian Point in NY has been leaking).

If mankind does not change the trajectory that our species has been on for some time, it is only a matter of time before our health is so fragile and our planet is so toxic that life will no longer be possible the way it is now. Even if that were to take 500 years, it is still the path we’re on. Perhaps, when the Bible stated that “the meek shall inherit the earth,” it was really a microbial prophecy, as bacteria were the first organisms here and will likely be the last. It’s probably a good time to make sure that your microbiome is fully operational, as it helps you cope with toxic exposures. Perhaps it’s time to coin the term “microbiome survivalist?”


Children with health impairments by heavy metals in an e-waste recycling area.

Zeng X, Xu X, Boezen HM, Huo X.

Chemosphere. 2016 Apr;148:408-15. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2015.10.078. Epub 2016 Jan 30. Review.


Material Flow for the Intentional Use of Mercury in China.

Lin Y, Wang S, Wu Q, Larssen T.

Environ Sci Technol. 2016 Mar 1;50(5):2337-44. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.5b04998. Epub 2016 Feb 15.


Industrial arsenic contamination causes catastrophic changes in freshwater ecosystems.

Chen G, Shi H, Tao J, Chen L, Liu Y, Lei G, Liu X, Smol JP.

Sci Rep. 2015 Nov 30;5:17419. doi: 10.1038/srep17419.


Free PMC Article

Long-term toxicity assessment of soils in a recovered area affected by a mining spill.

Romero-Freire A, García Fernández I, Simón Torres M, Martínez Garzón FJ, Martín Peinado FJ.

Environ Pollut. 2016 Jan;208(Pt B):553-61. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2015.10.029. Epub 2015 Nov 20.


Environmental factors in cardiovascular disease.

Cosselman KE, Navas-Acien A, Kaufman JD.

Nat Rev Cardiol. 2015 Nov;12(11):627-42. doi: 10.1038/nrcardio.2015.152. Epub 2015 Oct 13. Review.


Probiotic lactobacilli: a potential prophylactic treatment for reducing pesticide absorption in humans and wildlife.

Trinder M, Bisanz JE, Burton JP, Reid G.

Benef Microbes. 2015;6(6):841-7. doi: 10.3920/BM2015.0022. Epub 2015 Jun 30.

Select item 230999397.

Occurrence of ciprofloxacin, enrofloxacin, and florfenicol in animal wastewater and water resources.

Wei R, Ge F, Chen M, Wang R.

J Environ Qual. 2012 Sep-Oct;41(5):1481-6. doi: 10.2134/jeq2012.0014.


Impact of medicated feed on the development of antimicrobial resistance in bacteria at integrated pig-fish farms in Vietnam.

Dang ST, Petersen A, Van Truong D, Chu HT, Dalsgaard A.

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2011 Jul;77(13):4494-8. doi: 10.1128/AEM.02975-10. Epub 2011 May 20.


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Occurrence of veterinary antibiotics in animal wastewater and surface water around farms in Jiangsu Province, China.

Wei R, Ge F, Huang S, Chen M, Wang R.

Chemosphere. 2011 Mar;82(10):1408-14. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2010.11.067. Epub 2010 Dec 14.

Select item 2085833210.

[Do pharmaceutical waste and drug residue pose a risk to public health?].

Haguenoer JM.

Sante Publique. 2010 May-Jun;22(3):325-42. French.


Household disposal of pharmaceuticals as a pathway for aquatic contamination in the United kingdom.

Bound JP, Voulvoulis N.

Environ Health Perspect. 2005 Dec;113(12):1705-11.


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And the meek shall inherit the Earth…

As a human being living on Planet Earth, I sometimes ponder where my species fits in to the planet’s ecosystem. I know, it’s not really a normal thought, and it might be more entertaining to see what one of the Kardashians wore yesterday (Who? LOL) but as the author of The Symbiont Factor I really do think about such things. You see, from a physics point of view (yes, I was initially an engineering major before biology) this planet really only has one source of incoming energy to keep “the circle of life” going. That incoming source of energy is of course sunlight. Only photosynthetic organisms can convert sunlight into biomass that is usable by other life forms such as humans. Photosynthetic organisms are all some version of a plant, simple or complex. Yes, cyanobacteria and algaes, it could be argued, are not plants-but they have chlorophyll and they photosynthesize, so they could for this purpose be grouped as “plants” in a looser way of thinking.

Here’s where things get interesting, because the only organisms which can digest cellulose are bacteria. The only remaining photosynthetic organisms are cyanobacteria, which are bacteria. It is therefore accurate to say that the processing of all “incoming energy” beyond the plant is dependent on bacteria. Think about it for a moment-termites cannot digest wood fiber, being completely dependent on their microbiome (gut bacteria!) to digest it. The same thing can be said of any other organism on the planet which eats plant material! Cows, horses, rabbits-all depend on a complex gut microbiome to digest plant fiber. We humans also depend on our gut bacteria to digest plant fiber. Nothing can digest plants without the aid of bacteria.

Why is this important? The above discussion should point out that without bacteria there could not be much life beyond the plant world and cyanobacteria. Indeed, some researchers have stated the belief that cyanobacteria may have been the first organisms on the planet, with complex groups evolving into what we see as plants and algaes today. Our present life form would not exist if it were not for our symbiont bacteria. Symbiont organisms, as explained in The Symbiont Factor, have provided us with a fast acting rapid evolution capability that has aided our survival and permitted our continued development. These symbiont organisms guide the development of our brain, endocrine system, and immune system. Without a balanced microbiome we cannot develop normally. Our microbiome greatly enhances our ability to cope with famine, stress, or immune challenges without having to resort to inter-generational evolution. The microbiome has at least 100x the gene count as our human cells and can change the activation of those genes (and our own!) to help us adapt and survive.

When you consider the above discussion and realize that we are routinely destroying our internal microbiome as well as the planet’s microbiome, it should be food for thought that our present level of function at the top of the food chain may be more precarious that we believe. The delicate microbial balance that allows our brain and body to function at a high level is easily disturbed by poor nutrition (think McDonald’s) and high levels of antibiotics from both medicinal use and residues in meats, as well as other factors discussed in my book. Learning the importance of the microbiome is essential to understanding life itself!