Friday, March 15, 2013

Good Gods

Endless Conversation

Express Staff Writer

If you travel to India for any length of time to get spiritual, there’s a good chance you will also become quite ill. After wandering around that mythical landscape with travelers and sadhus for a few months during the early 1980s, I finally had to cry uncle and look for help. 

A kind innkeeper outside of Agra diagnosed my condition and pointed to my stomach, saying, “You need the good gods. Come with me.”

Soon we were at his friend’s lassi stand, where warm, salty yogurt was sold by the scoop. I expected village superstition, but was instead treated to a probiotic folk remedy that concurred with Western medical science; living microbes in yogurt help restore the ecological balance within our intestines. Attributing the cure to little gods apparently did nothing to hamper its effectiveness

Alas, my stomach bugs turned out to be giardia. A robust herd of pear-shaped, flagellated protozoan parasites were attached to my duodenum and it would require a long dose of broad-spectrum antibiotics back in the U.S. to get rid of them.

Giardia bugs are just trying to make a living. They move from host to host in food and water that has been contaminated by contact with feces. They cause great discomfort in humans, but also are involved in the creation of iron-sulfur proteins, which have numerous functions, including the production of sulfur for the biosynthesis of lipoic acid and biotin. Biotin is necessary for cell growth, the production of fatty acids and the metabolism of fats and amino acids. 

God only knows how complex are the interactions within our guts, where 100 trillion bacteria (about two pounds worth on average) roam, do battle, give birth and die. Some cause us trouble. Others are crucial to our survival. Billions more organisms have evolved to live elsewhere on and in our bodies, keeping our skin, eyes and noses functioning properly. 

Hygiene, vaccines and antibiotics are necessary to control the germs that cause health problems; rotavirus alone, and the resulting diarrhea, causes more than 500,000 infant deaths each year in developing countries where vaccines are not available. So it is easy to overlook the teeming swarms of organisms that are hard at work all around us each day, eliminating our risk of contracting infections and diseases.

Take for instance the sewer plant in Hailey, where Roger Parker and his team manage a vast living culture of amoebas, flagellates and ciliates who devour 500,000 gallons of sewage each day. 

Parker’s facility recently “seeded” a new sewer plant in Bellevue with a culture of good gods from his sewage vats. These bugs reproduce for many years, reducing waste into harmless effluent that can be transferred back into the Big Wood River or into the Ohio Gulch landfill, or used as compost for vegetation.

Tony Evans:

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