The air we breathe is here thanks to an ocean-residing, oxygen-releasing bacteria called cyanobacteria. Today, there are more than a million metric tons of these green critters found in every body of water on the planet, and they are still pumping out oxygen for our pleasure.
A couple of billion years before the arrival of our atmosphere, more primitive bacteria were the first life forms on earth. They figured out how to take food from a gas in the then-toxic atmosphere and pull out the vital nutrients and minerals to support life.
Bacteria are the originators of the food chain that we are so dependent on today.
Bacteria have been gathering genes and sharing them with early versions of us for billions of years. We pass our genes on to our offspring once every generation or so, but bacteria can transfer their genes by simply touching each other—this is happening all day, every day.
In Eugenia Bone’s new book, Microbia, she compares the ways the humans acquire genes and the way microbes acquire genes.
Take lactose intolerance, for example, many people of northern European descent have acquired a gene to allow them to break down milk sugar even as adults—it’s called lactase persistence. For most humans, the ability to break down lactose or milk sugar stops once we stop nursing. For humans, it is thought that it took around 5000 years of drinking milk as adults to acquire this gene.
Enter the bacteria… If a lactose intolerant bacteria sat down next to a northern European’s lactase persistent bacteria (who had no problem drinking milk) and they shook hands, the lactose-digesting gene would immediately be transferred or shared with the lactose intolerant bacteria. They can now both order ice cream for dessert and have no worries!
Today’s science tells us that if you happened to eat a food that was sprayed by a pesticide that mutated some of the bacteria naturally occurring on the plant, some of that mutated genetic material would be instantly transferred to the bacteria residing inside your intestinal tract.
The gut microbes would then transfer that mutated genetic material through the intestinal gut barrier as a genetic survival warning into the genetic code of the body—a process now understood as Horizontal Transfer.
This is just one example of how the bacteria inside of us support and protect us. Bacteria have become our invisible eyes and ears to help us genetically adapt to the ever-changing outside world. This ability to protect us may be more profound than we once thought.
In one study, a group of women were asked to smell the body odor of a group of men and rate them according to how attracted they were to them.
Body odor is the waste product or excretions of bacteria that flourish in damp places like the armpits. Some of the men had syphilis, which the women were able to pick up on and instantly reject! (1)
We seem to be much more aware of our surroundings than we know—thanks to the subtle messages our bacteria are sending us.
Do you crave coffee or chocolate? This may be your microbes, who are sending a message to your brain through the gut-brain axis to crave and then eat the foods that provide the chemical nutrients they need to survive.
According to Ayurveda, the krimi or gut bugs they discovered and referenced thousands of years ago are very much responsible for our health. (4) The key to their survival was maintaining a proper environment with a peaceful, loving mindset, circadian-based lifestyle, and diet of whole, seasonal foods.
When the gut microbiology is out of balance, the bacteria create excess biofilms—protective shells they build around themselves to allow them to multiply without interruption. Biofilms are produced by good and bad microbes.
The plaque in your teeth is a biofilm for example. Biofilms can be good or bad. They can allow potentially harmful bacteria to proliferate, and they can also support the proliferation of potentially beneficial bacteria.
New research on Ayurvedic herbs has found that the herb, Neem, aka “The Village Pharmacy,” can actually inhibit biofilm accumulation, allowing the beneficial immune-boosting bacteria to be free to police your intestinal tract instead of hanging out in the police station drinking coffee, or persuading you to crave it! (3)
Microbes also change in the soil based on the foods that are grown in each season. Dandelions, for example, secrete chemicals that attract certain microbes that help the dandelion thrive. In the spring, when dandelions surge, so do these dandelion-loving bugs.
The Result: When we eat seasonal foods, we are consuming the microbes that are also surging because the plant is surging—they are both multiplying as rapidly as possible. The seasonal change of the bugs in our guts has been documented in hunter-gatherers, and new research is also suggesting this seasonal food, microbe connection. (2)
Understanding the microbiome is a critical piece of understanding us! I invite you to watch my podcast with Eugenia Bone, who wrote the book, Microbia.
If you are seeking an easy-to-understand tutorial on the basics of the microbial world inside of us, I highly recommend watching this podcast and reading her book. Eugenia is ripe with colorful stories that make this complex topic easy and exciting to learn!
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