“Out of sight, out of mind – and bacteria are invisible”, said Pentti Huovinen, professor of bacteriology at Turku University, in Helsingin Sanomat. Huovinen’s article dealt with an ever growing problem: the spreading of bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Antibiotics were invented less than 100 years ago, but many bacteria are already resistant to them due to their excess use.
Microbes are everywhere. Still, it seems to be too easy not to think about them. Recent studies strongly indicate that exposure to microbes as a child would effectively prevent allergies. We need dirt under our fingernails and a direct contact with nature and its microbes in order to feel well. The production of food may well have an impact on the balance of gut flora through soil and, in this way, on our wellbeing. Dead plant parts do not turn into soil on their own – they need decomposers, without which we would be buried under waste. Microbes release nutrients and make them available to other organisms. Furthermore, forests and cultivated plants would not grow without vital fungi and nitrogen-fixing bacteria. The complex networks made by microbes are today’s hottest research topic.
The complex networks made by microbes are today’s hottest research topic.
Do you ever wonder what impact soil cultivation has on invisible microbes? Microbes naturally produce vital atmospheric gases, such as methane and carbon dioxide. Without these, life on earth would not be possible. However, if the concentration of these gases in the atmosphere increases too high, they cause global warming. Agriculture and forestry shape the land we use and, in the long term, they may reduce the amount of carbon stored in soil and the diversity of microbes living in soil. We have an impact on microbes and the cycle of vital elements they transmit by digging into untouched layers in the tropics or when permafrost thawing becomes faster as a result of the climate change. Is it time to think about the smallest organisms in soil? We can stop the unnecessary use of chemicals and consider the diversity of microbes in land use and construction. It is possible that some positive effects of staying outdoors are linked to microbes and the compounds they produce.
We should not belittle microbes – after all, many of them carry genes that also benefit us. Many still unknown microbes may turn out to be effective decontaminants or producers of renewable energy.
We should not belittle microbes – after all, many of them carry genes that also benefit us. Many still unknown microbes may turn out to be effective decontaminants or producers of renewable energy. New findings require hard work and long-term research. The Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) has a large group of experts who possess extensive knowledge of microbes in soil, plants and animals that affect the wellbeing of humans. What we need is closer cooperation and multidisciplinary expertise in order to utilise all this information. Researchers are also largely responsible for distributing studied information. On the basis of information, every one of us could act or have an impact so that we would not unnecessarily destroy the smallest organisms on our planet.
I am proud to be among the Luke experts to organise the third international and highly popular Ecology of Soil Microorganisms (ESM 2018) conference at Kulttuuritalo in Helsinki on 17–21 June 2018. It is a privilege to listen to and talk about the most recent findings in microbiology and research trends with the world’s leading experts.