Thursday, May 8, 2014

It Came From the Faucet...

In September last year, authorities announced that they’d found Naegleria fowleri in the public water supply of Louisiana’s St. Bernard Parish. N. fowleri is an amoeba — a single-celled organism that oozes its way around the world, enveloping any potential food sources in “arms” of ectoplasmic goo. This particular amoeba lives in warm water, eating bacteria, and generally being non-threatening to humans. But, if it gets pushed far enough up your nose, N. fowleri can end up discovering a whole new food source — human brain cells.

It’s this combination of sci-fi horror and it-could-be-anywhere proximity that makes N. fowleri the stuff of nightmares. But the scientists who study microbial ecology say that you have to put an announcement like this into context. Every day, wherever we go, we’re surrounded by microorganisms — bacteria, viruses, fungi, and amoebas. They live in our houses, in our water, and in our bodies. Some are helpful, actively doing good things for us. Some are benign, essentially ignoring us. Some are dangerous. But the really interesting ones — including N. fowleri — are those that straddle the lines between classifications. The benign that can turn pathogenic. The helpful that can turn benign. And whole populations of microorganisms whose relationship with us can change dramatically, depending on the conditions they live in. To get a better grasp on this, I spoke with several experts about their favorite microbes-next-door — the tiny creatures who share our lives but who we seldom notice.

- More Here

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