Bacteria and their Viruses — John Guest — 22nd May 2017

Our speaker, John Guest, described him­self as a reformed bio-chemist, who has become a self-confessed genetic engin­eer.
It is appar­ent that over the years we are living in an age of increas­ing spe­cial­isa­tion; as a con­sequence, more of us seem to know more and more about less and less.
He has been work­ing on the sub­ject for 40 years or more. As a result, since the days of the crack­ing of the com­plex human genetic code or DNA in 1953 by Crick and Watson at Cambridge (for which they received the Noble Prize for Medicine and Physics), which was far in the past but very worthy none the less.

The thought of bac­teria and vir­uses, of which I have a vague and passing know­ledge, are it seems beset by prob­lems of DNA theft and trans­fer­ence. The old maxim of ‘big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite them’ is true it seems. John was able to make a very com­plex sub­ject just about com­pre­hens­ible, if you paid atten­tion, that is.

It’s obvi­ous we should know more about these little crit­ters as they, the bac­teria and vir­uses, rep­res­ent some­thing like 70 per cent of the earth’s bio­mass. I bet you did not know that! They have been around for about 4,000,300 years. We human beings, on the other hand, a mere 200,000. You must excuse me for quot­ing so many facts and fig­ures but they are per­tin­ent to the points John was making. For example, he reckoned that there was some­thing like one kilo­gram of e-coli in each of our bodies. He spoke about the vari­et­ies of bac­teria, includ­ing our old friends e-coli and sal­mon­ella and thou­sands of others. Both of these I assumed, mis­takenly, were bad­dies. But no, we need them. What I can’t fathom out is why at times they become patho­genic and cause us all sorts of pain and grief com­batting them. Edwina Currie, MP as was, and the sal­mon­ella saga scare of a few years back caused prob­lems. At the time I was involved to some extent with this, and the hue and cry it cre­ated in almost caus­ing the col­lapse of the whole poultry industry. Our guest speaker said she was right. Perhaps she was, but it didn’t seem so from where I stood.
The sub­ject of bac­teria and vir­uses and how they inter­act bio­lo­gic­ally has pro­duced sev­eral prom­in­ent researches by Cant Woese in 1976, Fred Sanger, a Nobel Prize Winner 1980 and many others.
It is thought that bac­teria can be and were in the past cre­ated in the hot thermal vents fol­low­ing tec­tonic plates in the deep oceans and pos­sibly from inter­stel­lar seed­ing. The sub­ject is cer­tainly not exhausted, and our thanks to John Guest who made a com­plex sub­ject under­stand­able and inter­est­ing.