Not all microbes are voracious plague eaters ready to inoculate, destroy, and compost all of us. In fact, most of them are our friends. But, we tend not to hear about our friends because they don’t make waves like E. Coli outbreaks on lettuce and broccoli. Lactobacillus is a friendly fermenting bacteria that has been gaining notoriety because of its innocuous ubiquity in fermented foods, our bodies and digestive systems, as well as soil and compost.
Our fear of pathogenic microbes has made us fearful of all of them, the friendly ones included. That’s a shame, because the the friendly ones are actually very powerful allies that protect us by boosting nutrition and immunity, and by reducing stress.
It helps to get to know who your friends are. Just like in any landscape where you are trying to establish your livelihood and presence, you want to identify your friends – your supporters and allies who will look out for you. That helps to distinguish who is helpful and who is not.
Advances in high-throughput sequencing over the last decade have made it more accessible and affordable than ever, vastly expanding our knowledge and understanding of microbial ecologies, biodiversity, and population dynamics. We now know how there are great similarities and overlap in microbial community composition between soil, plant, and human systems. There can be 10 times more microbial cells in our bodies than human cells. Research suggest bacteria maintain a majority of the evolutionary origin of our own genetic material, and some believe we as multi-cellular organisms evolved as collectives of bacteria that cooperated so well they formed a whole new reproducing organism.
Microbiomes function similarly for soil, plants, and humans. They increase metabolic efficiency and nutrient availability and uptake, improve immune function and protection against pathogenic outbreaks, modulate stress and anxiety (climatic and environmental for soil and plants, mental and emotional for humans), and provide a source of novel genetic and epigenetic material for increased resilience and adaptability to changing environmental conditions.
In the words of Charlie’s musical song, “The Nightman Cometh,” from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, why not have “friendship for everyone”.
Cosmic Compost is a celebration of our microbial allies that help maintain a healthy ecology for us to have clean air, water, soil, and food. It utilizes watercolor art to raise our collective awareness and literacy around soil, compost, human health, and microbes. Share your love of our microbial friends with your favorite humans by writing them a love letter or pouring them a cup of tea in a microbial mug.