Tēnā koutou katoa. Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou, ki ngā manuhiri o taku pae tukutuku.
Welcome everyone to my blog.
Those of you who know me, will know that science is my niche and I often get very excited about new developments and technologies that arise. This time however, I am excited because I have the opportunity to share with you, my whānau and friends, a glimpse into a world unseen. A world that existed long before you and I, long before Māui pulled Aotearoa from the ocean, even before time its self. The world of bacteria and viruses!
Te wero – your challenge; no matter your age or background, is to step out of your comfort zone and aim to learn something new.
If you went onto Google right now and searched ‘why are bacteria…’ the first thing that Google suggests is ‘why are bacteria important’. Most of the time, we only hear about bacteria when someone is sick; so how come scientists are always going on about how cool and important they are?
I have a well-known adventurer here to join us. Together we will explore the world of bacteria and viruses, so that we can understand why they are worth knowing about.
Māui! Nau mai haere mai – Welcome!
Haere mai – come on, we are going to explore the world of bacteria and viruses! Our first stop, OURSELVES.
Yes we do!
We have just as many bacterial cells on the inside and the outside of our bodies, as we do human cells (4). But don’t freak out! Most of these bacteria are friendly. They help us digest our food, improve our immune system and help fight off bad bacteria!
Each of you have a different mixture of bacteria which depends on your genetics, your environments, your diet and even whether you were born by C-section or not.
This environment of bacteria is called our Microbiome and they play a very important role in our health. We need to make sure we are taking care of our bacteria, because they take care of us (2).
You might be asking yourself, how do I take care of my friendly bacteria?
Great question! Well I’m no doctor, but what I do know is that bacteria LOVE food that is full of fiber. Things like fruit, veges, nuts and legumes. Our microbiome break this fiber down into useful molecules that we can absorb. For example, small chain fatty acids that line our guts and act as a safety barrier. Small chain fatty acids also assist our immune function and reduce inflammation. (2)
Therefore, the more fiber-full-food you eat, the more friendly-fiber-digesting bacteria you will have.
If you are eating low fiber, high processed food all the time (junk food), you are starving your friendly bacteria! 5 plus a day doesn’t JUST keep the doctor away, it also keeps our friends alive. Let’s take care of our bacteria whānau. After all it’s the one culture we ALL have.
To watch a video about this click here!
Now, we did mention before that there are also bad bugs. These few bad apples can cause us to become very sick. However, since antibiotics were discovered in 1928, previously deadly infections like pneumonia or TB are now easily curable!
Antibiotics are naturally occurring or synthetically produced chemicals which prevent the growth of bacteria. They are our unseen super heroes!
Our next stop is Te Ao Tūroa – the natural world.
Bacteria are found everywhere in our natural environment; they assist natural processes just like how they assist us. They can be found in the ocean, in our forests, and on our crops and livestock.
However, humans are not the only ones that suffer from the wrath of certain bad bugs. There are bacteria that infect cows, horses, cats, dogs, native plants and crops. These are important things to consider, especially in New Zealand where so many of our people rely on agriculture and horticulture.
Additionally as the kaitiaki – guardians of Te Ao Tūroa, it is our responsibility to understand all the threats to our environment, the seen and unseen. Aotearoa is one of the strictest countries in the world when it comes to biosecurity.
Our health, jobs and even security can be affected by bacteria.
Whakarongo – Listen up!
Whānau, there is an important issue we need to be aware of in Te Ao Huakite – world of bacteria; and that is antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotic resistance is the ability for certain bad bacteria to withstand the effects of antibiotics. This is very serious issue as there are few alternative methods to effectively fight off these bad bugs!
So how do these bad bugs become resistant?
Over many generations, processes like natural selection mean that each generation of bacteria gains random mutations (for further explanation). The effects of these mutations on the bacteria can range from harmful to no effect at all; but on the rare occasion, one of these random mutations will allow that bacteria to be antibiotic resistant! Like gaining an extra super power.
This creates a strain of antibiotic resistant bacteria, that are called SUPER BUGS.
An example of a Super Bug is Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA. Staphylococcus aureus is a bad bug that can cause skin infections, pneumonia and sepsis. The Super bad bug MRSA has gained random mutations that make it resistant to the previously effective antibiotic called, methicillin (6).
MRSA is a problem in Aotearoa.
There have been 8 different strains of MRSA found in Aotearoa. In 2017, a total of 740 people were infected with one of these strains. The people who were most likely to be infected were young people, and people of Māori and Pasifika decent (3).
It is currently estimated that antibiotic resistance accounts for 700,000 deaths worldwide. It is predicted that by 2050 this number may rise to 10 MILLION deaths (1).
Kāore pai – not okay.
So, if the Super Bugs can defend themselves against the antibiotics, then how do we fight them? Here are a few things we can do to address this issue (6);
- Stop using antibiotics to treat infections that can heal them selves
- Allow naturally occurring bacteria to hang around, as competition for the bad bugs
- Find alternative ways to fight the bad bugs
One of the alternative methods to fighting bad bugs is using Bacteriophages (phages). They are a type of virus that infect bacteria.
There are 1031 bacteriophages in the world.
That is 10,000,000,000,000,000,000000,000,000,000 phages!
He maha – a lot! Each type of phage is able to infect and kill one type of host bacteria.
This makes them highly specific, unlike antibiotics. In countries like Russia, Poland and Georgia, they sometimes still use phages to treat bacterial infections rather than antibiotics (5).
Yes there is Māui. They have a huge potential to influence our day to day lives as human beings, which is why everyone should take time to understand their world. Especially with problems like antibiotic resistance and new, exciting discoveries with bacteriophages.
Nō reira – Therefore
Ngā mihi whānau for your time and ngā mihi Maui for coming along.
I hope you all have learnt something useful, that you can pass on to your friends and whānau.
Next time we are going to investigate our phage friends; to understand exactly what they are and how they can be used to solve problems.
Stay tuned for the next adventure into the world unseen, Te Ao o ngā Huakita me ngā Huaketo.
Ka kite anō!
- O’Neill, J. (2016). Tackling drug-resistant infections globally: final report and recommendations. The review on antimicrobial resistance.
- Ravella, S. (Educator), Foerster, A. (Director, Animator, and Story board Artist), Nacamulli, M. (Script Editor) & Turner, J. ( Art Director, Designer, Illustrator and Character Designer), (2017). How the food you eat affects your gut: TED Ed Lessons Worth Sharing.
- Richardson, A., Desai, U., Mowat, E., et al (2010). Annual survey of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Retrieved from: www.surv.esr.cri.nz
- Sender, R., Fuchs, S., & Milo, R. (2016). Are we really vastly outnumbered? Revisiting the ratio of bacterial to host cells in humans. Cell, 164(3), 337-340.
- Sulakvelidze, A., Alavidze, Z., & Morris, J. G. (2001). Bacteriophage therapy. Antimicrobial agents and chemotherapy, 45(3), 649-659.
- Wu, K. (Educator), Underhill, B. (Animator), & Gendler, A. (Script Editor), (2014). What causes antibiotic resistance?: TED Ed Lessons Worth Sharing.
Want to learn more about antibiotic resistance? Click here