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.