Guest Post: Sewage and health: an opportunity for change

Hey everyone,

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been happy to have a spirited discussion with one of my colleagues, Keith Bell, who is with Sanitation Circle, which is devoted to the promotion of dry compost toilet technology.  I’ve asked him to write about his passion here and invite you to not only read but also share your views.

Enjoy….

Geography of PhysiologyGraphic Artist: Kyle Bell

In sanitation issues, we have a powerful intersection of health and environment overlooked by medical experts and nations.  Yet have you ever considered poor sanitation as cause of the diabetes epidemic in Canada and the world? Evidence is steadily mounting that diabetes is a matter of microbial imbalance. In Canada, diabetes rates have doubled over the past decade. One in three Canadians are projected to have diabetes or prediabetes by 2020. In sanitation-challenged India, people still believes its rampant diabetes epidemic a matter of diet and exercise.

Yet there may be an alternate perspective. Consider how gastric bypass surgery rapidly halts diabetes via removal of infected duodenum, the first section of small intestine after the stomach.  How could this be the case?  What is really going on?

To get a better idea, let’s take a ride into uncharted territory: the inner space of our small intestine. It’s the center of all health, directly between our liver and pancreas. The lining of the small intestine is called the most important quarter-inch of the body. It’s here where our nutrients are absorbed…or malabsorbed. Most people believe starvation a matter of malnutrition, but it’s more accurately malabsorption syndrome, meaning it’s not necessarily what we eat, but what we can absorb based on intestinal health. Evidence over the past decade is strongly mounting toward the understanding that intestinal health is reliant on balanced flora.  This microbial balance, or homeostasis, is the driver for all health, physical and mental.

To put it another way, have you heard of the gut-brain connection? The major gut diseases such as Celiac, ulcerative colitis, IBD and Crohn’s are all associated with mental illness. We’re learning that this is directly related to our gut and that relates to the microbes to which we are exposed.  If that microbial population is antagonistic to our heath as evidenced by poor sanitation, then we all lose out.

To put it another way: sanitation is sanity.

The problem is most people still believe our water-based sanitation systems, flushing toilets, are an improvement. Modern sanitation has been voted the most important medical advance in the history of science. But it’s now obsolete, guided by obsolete law. We purposely multiply the wrong kinds of microbes in the name of sanitation and this is affecting us.

It’s time to end mixing our waste with water.

Now let’s look at another aspect of sanitation once believed to be a hallmark of our modern society:  activated sludge.  Once the toilet has been flushed, it heads to a centralized facility – for the most part – where it is thought to be made safe by dewatering the sewage and then treated the solid section, sludge, until there are no signs of infectious microbes.

The technology was born in Manchester, UK, 1913 and it was great in its first 50 years, lowering deaths by acute illness. But we’ve traded that for something far more ominous: chronic, long-term non-communicable diseases, NCDs which are now the global health focus. We now know poor sanitation may be the driving force behind global non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, cancer, autism, heart and lung disease. But this has been completely overlooked by the United Nations. The UN General Assembly held its first meeting on health in a decade in 2011. The last such meeting was 2001 about AIDS. In 2011, the focus was NCDs, yet sanitation was not on the agenda, a lost opportunity. The World Bank still builds wastewater treatment plants while UNICEF builds groundwater-polluting pit latrines. 

What’s really needed is to promote dry compost toilet technology.

This is not new information. The world’s first physician, Hippocrates, stated “death begins in the colon.” Yet we disregard intestinal health at every turn, polluting water and soil, abusing antibiotics and fueling microbial overgrowth on a diet of refined carbohydrates. We’re now born predisposed to obesity, diabetes, autism, Alzheimer’s, cancer, anorexia and rickets. All NCDs can be explained by flora imbalance beginning in the gut.

Studies show gut dysbiosis (imbalanced flora) using new microbial DNA detection technology called microarray. Yet modern science still holds belief the fetal gastrointestinal tract is sterile without evidence. But truth is being revealed as what was once thought sterile is actually teeming with life. This includes the brain, amniotic fluid, urine, eyeballs, meconium and breast milk all not sterile and were never meant to be sterile. That’s right, even the brain relies on balanced flora, just like the gut.

We have polluted the world’s microbiome, shifting the balance. We need to retain and repair what we have to prevent these environmental health problems.  And this starts with our water. Our oceans are merely a thin film stretched across Earth’s surface and we need to protect them from ourselves.

A rallying call for change.

So, while dry compost toilet technology may be the answer, we should look to reducing diabetes as a rallying call for improved sanitation.  Based on studies out of China, which leads the world in diabetes, we know the causes are not poor diet or being sedentary, but due to rampant pollution in soil, water and air pollution.  We are learning every day that this disease is not only about diet and exercise; it’s also about our waste.  We need to end mixing waste with water if not only to improve our lives but also of those for generations to come.  

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Taking Germs Back to Ottawa!

Well, since the launch of The Germ Code on November 5th, it has been quite the ride. 

germ-codeAs of today, the book is the #1 bestseller in Basic Sciences on Amazon.ca and listed as a Hot New Release as you can see above!

For all of you who have purchased the book, I am so grateful! For those of you thinking of buying it, check out this Stellar Review in the Toronto Star.

* * *

As part of the promotion for the book, I headed back to Ottawa and was immersed in what eventually became a homecoming for me.

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It all started with a giant feature on me in The Ottawa Citizen which was fantastic although I wasn’t made aware that I was also on the front page.

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While this may seem extremely exciting, it made for an interesting morning.  I decided to head down to the restaurant for breakfast prior to getting dressed for success.  When the people at the hotel were surprisingly nice to me and calling me by my first name, I started to get a bit nervous.  It was a concierge that pointed out I was on the front page of the paper.  Needless to say I escaped back to my hotel room and didn’t leave until I was ready to be seen in public.

Over the next few days, I had some incredible moments but none were as special as my return to CTV Ottawa where it all began.  I did the morning show where I talked about our relationship with germs and even toasted them not with an adult beverage but a bottle of my favorite probiotic drink.  You can see the entire interview here after the advertisement:

jason-cheershttp://ottawa.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=1046244&
binId=1.1487308&playlistPageNum=6

But the real treat came when I returned to CTV Ottawa News at Noon where it all began back in 2008.  It’s been close to 6 years since I first sat in the studio taking calls from the public.  The moment was both amazing as well as emotional.  I had to hold back a few tears during the two segments with Leanne Cusack.  It was without a doubt the high point.

Here are the two segments:

jason-leanne1http://ottawa.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=1046361

jason-leanne2http://ottawa.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=1046375

Yet that was not the end of the festivities.  On Wednesday, I had the chance to take germs awareness to Parliament Hill for an event I dubbed #GermsOnTheHill.

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I went with a few colleagues and showed off some of the ways people could improve their relationship with good germs.  I was visited by MPs, Ministers, Senators and a number of staff, each of whom was happy to share their interests, stories and support for the work I am doing as The Germ Guy.

Twitter1bb7a92_jpgHon. Dr. Carolyn Bennett & The Germ Guy! 

The event was organized by the Honourable Dr. Carolyn Bennett who was at one time considered the Minister of Handwashing and I am eternally grateful to her.  But it wasn’t just a red-coloured event.  Amidst the dozens of visitors, other friends such as MP James Lunney from the Conservatives and MP Peter Stoffer came.

jason-lunneyDr. James Lunney & The Germ Guy!

Peter Stoffer (he was camera shy!)

What took me most by surprise was not the amazing cordiality and grace shown to me and my colleagues by the members of the Hill but that many were aware of the need for good germs and probiotics.  They all appreciated the concept of a better relationship and how we should be getting closer to good germs in order to improve our health, our environment and our economy!

There was one other surprise.  Many of those who visited knew of one of the products featured, Bio-K Plus.  In fact, there were times where my colleague, David Christie, was more popular than me with the various Ministers and MPs that visited.  It was almost surreal to see their knowledge and support for the probiotic.  There were going to be quite a few happy guts that night!

jason-david-lunneyDavid Christie, Dr. James Lunney and The Germ Guy!

Alas, it was all too short a time and I was rushed off to the airport even as I was having an awesome chat with the Honourable Maxime Bernier.  Yet, even as we departed, I managed to say hello to a few more members who knew me and left feeling completely enriched.

There are a few people I need to thank in addition to those I’ve mentioned.

  • While I was there, my guide and confidante, Jennifer Tiller kept me sane and warm throughout my stay.  She also kept everyone in line and never left my side.  Thank you!
  • My good friend and at times partner in artistic crime, Jason Gilbert, was a great companion and helped me stay grounded even when it seemed like I was going to end up in the stratosphere.
  • My esteemed colleague, Cathy Stafford with whom I’ve worked on grants, events and what I like to call bad germs removal activities (ahem!) was the perfect event organizer and made the event on Parliament Hill look and feel like a reception.  If you need someone to make an event come to life in Ottawa, give her a call!
  • I have to thank the University of Ottawa Press and Dr. Robert Smith? for organizing, hosting and carrying out the great Zombies vs. Germs event.  We had such a blast and I honestly believe we could take the show on tour!
  • Finally, I need to thank my brother Matthew Tetro who only saw me briefly but gave me such wonderful words of kindness and support.  He’s also a translator although instead of science, it’s English and French.  If you need anyone to give your copy the same kind of engaging effort as I do, you have to give him a call!

As always, would love to hear your thoughts…

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The Book and The Bio-K

Well, it is finally here…

Germ-Code

After almost two years to the day that I first walked into the offices of Random House Canada, the book is finally available.

It has been a long journey and I want to thank everyone who has supported me, both personally and professionally.  I am truly grateful for all the encouragement, discussions and at times, advice as I wrote, re-wrote and then waited.

There is one professional organization I wish to thank for their collaboration and financial support over the year and especially since I left Ottawa.

biok_logo

Bio-K Plus International

Over the last few weeks, I have been in discussions with the company and have reached a collaborative agreement to help improve our relationship with germs through the evangelism of good germs, specifically probiotics.

As part of the collaboration, I will be using this blog as a resource for information on probiotics.  The goal will be to answer questions that I face continually when I’m out in public as well as shed light on issues that are either groundbreaking or muddled in debate.  The information will be based on scientific literature and articles that one can find using PubMed (many of them will be free too).

As per the collaboration, when there is the opportunity to demonstrate Bio-K Plus as an example of the facts presented, I’ll be making the connection.  While this shouldn’t come a surprise, there is obviously one question that arises as a result of this announcement:

Why Bio-K Plus?

The reason is quite simple and yet for me, imperative for any association.  The company and its staff regard research as paramount and will not make any bold claims without ensuring there is ample evidence exists.

To epitomize this, they have conducted several clinical trials and continue to work scientifically to demonstrate the benefit of the product.  Also, they are the only probiotic company in Canada with an actual Health Canada claim.  Having been in the regulatory world whilst at my previous position, I understand just how tough that can be.  But most of all, they don’t extrapolate their data or its interpretation, which is rare in the corporate – and to some extent even in the academic – world.

In the coming weeks, the blog posts will start to appear and I would ask that you check them out for two specific reasons.

First, I would like to know how the information comes across and also if it is useful.  I always enjoy feedback and will always listen and reflect on any comments that are made.

Second, and more importantly, I want you to hold me accountable to the data in relation to Bio-K Plus.  While I believe in the product and also know that it works (I use it regularly), I don’t want this site to be an advertisement.  The research is the most important factor and I want to be sure that this holds true, regardless of the sponsor.

If you have any comments, I would love to hear them.

As a final note – for all the microbiologists and germs enthusiasts out there – if you happen to find something in the book that strikes you as interesting, make sure you send it in an Email to me at thegermguy@gmail.com. After all, when it comes to “Golden Eggs”, you don’t want to share them with everyone.

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An Honour and More Germy News…

Every day, I find several Emails in my Inbox sent by people wanting to talk about germs and our relationship with them.  I’m always excited to see the diverse opinions and the occasional word of encouragement.

But today, I received an honour that left me smiling from ear to ear.  The team at ScienceBorealis have a feature called the Canadian Science Blog of the Day (#cdnsciblog for you Twitterholics).  Today, I saw this:

The tweet has now led to even more people checking out this site and I hope taking a few moments to look at the collection of articles and videos I’ve posted over the years.

To all of you browsing here for the first time, Welcome!

THE GERM CODE

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As many of you know, the book is just over a month away from being released and I have been happy to hear that pre-sales are going well (you save 28%). Over the coming weeks, I’ll be working with Random House Canada to arrange for appearances and media interviews.  As they come in, I’ll be sure to keep you in the loop.

GETTING POPULAR WITH SCIENCE

utmStarting October 1, I’ll be joining the team at Popular Science with a column called, “Under The Microscope”.  It’ll take a more scientific look at the world of germs and provide more detail on the unseen world.  The topics will be different than those at The Huffington Post but I am sure they will interest you and keep the spotlight on the fascinating microscopic world.  

When the official link comes up, I’ll make sure it’s posted here.

TAKE A BITE OUT OF GRIME

Over the summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to talk with a champion for hygiene in Australia, Keith Gregory.  He has started the Children’s Global Hygiene Foundation which will work to empower children to not only learn more about hygiene, but become engaged in making hygiene a priority.  He has both celebrity and political supporters in Australia and I am happy to support him in these efforts.  This work is so valuable and I encourage each of you to check him out.

Keith has also started what I feel will be a revolution in engaging children in hygiene.  It’s called GrimeStoppers and is a multimedia platform to increase awareness of hygiene and it’s need in health.  The Grimestoppers also have a champion although I won’t mention that person here.  Instead, head to the website and take a look for a familiar name on the right hand side of the page.  I’m sure it will also bring a smile to your face.

Over the coming year, I know the Grimestoppers will grow into a movement and with continued support from organizations worldwide become a place for all children to not only learn, but also join in and become Grimestoppers themselves.

A CONTINUED THANKS

As you can see, it’s been a very fruitful summer and I look forward to what is to come in the fall and 2014.  But I need to stress that without all of you who continue to support and encourage me, I would never be where I am today.  So, as always, while I continue to succeed as a Germevangelist and now Germs Relationship Therapist, I am always grateful and humble for everything you have done for me.

Cheers and as always, feel free to leave me a comment below.

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Sympathy for the Bees and Kudos to the Media

Last week, I had the opportunity to write about the recent bee losses that have put the food industry on notice.  You can read it here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/jason-tetro/the-bee-killing-germ_b_3664477.html

It generated quite a bit of response and allowed me to explore the topic even further on radio and also internet TV.  I thought I would share these with you to see how one small story can lead into a rather large discussion.

Here’s one of the dozen or so interviews I did for radio.

http://www.cbc.ca/player/Radio/Local+Shows/Ontario/ID/2399515713/

And here is an interview I did while presenting at a conference.  I look a bit haggard as it was a long day but I hope the message came across clearly.

jason-fsa

http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2013/08/interview-with-jason-tetro-microbiologist-author-and-the-germ-guy/#.UgJ9d5Ksi0M

One of the most interesting aspects of the journey was the fact that each interview, whilst having similar trains of thought, allowed me to explore different horizons, from the use of natural means to prevent pests to the concept of GMBs – genetically modified bees.

What also made me smile was the fact that the journalists were all engaged.  We may not think much about bees but when it comes to our food security, there was nothing but interest and also a search for options.  There was no condemnation or even fear mongering.  The discussions were all positive and not once did I feel there was an angle presented that would lead to further unwarranted political or ideological debate.

While I am happy that I had this chance to share, I am even happier that despite all the harangues about the media at large, those who interacted with me were fantastic and adhered to the respect and conduct that I have grown to love from them.

Maybe I’ve just been lucky but after six years of being “The Germ Guy” I am grateful for the kindness shown to me.  To wit, I hope that one day, I can join their ranks to explore The Germy World and The Germ Code as a host of a news or reality-based program, either on radio or TV.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

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A Place to Call My ‘Ome…

Last week, I had the chance to follow a scientific conference online. The topic was to no one’s surprise, the microbiome and the continuing efforts of research to understand how germs affect our lives. While the presentations and discussion offered some great perspectives and a few tidbits for future keynotes and lectures, I was amazed at how one particular suffix seemed to be mentioned ad nauseum:

‘ome.

For those who don’t know, the ‘ome (and its close cousin, ‘omics) in research refers to the entirety of a particular branch of science.  It had a rather modest start, with the word that almost everyone knows today, the genome and the study of the genome, genomics.  Back then, there was little fanfare; everyone was happy with the name and went about their lab work.

But for some reason that still befuddles me, other research streams decided to create their own version of a universal, all-encompassing word to describe their work.  The protocol was easy: take the word that most easily describe the nature of the research and add either ‘ome’ to describe the subject or ‘omics’ to point out the research being conducted.

Almost as fast as Gangnam Style became a one-hit wonder, the popularity of ‘ome’ and ‘omics’ exploded.  Don’t believe me?  Check out the list of ‘omes.

As you can see, some are completely ludicrous.  My favorite conflagration of logic is the Aniome, which is not a character in a Marvel superhero comic book, but instead the entirety of biologically relevant things in the universe.  For those wondering, the omniome was already taken.  However, there are some that have taken off and made their mark in the world.  Some of the most popular ones include:

  • Protein research, mutated to form the proteome and proteomics;
  • Study of lipids – fat molecules – expanded to become lipidomics of the lipidome;
  • All the sugars in the body, the glycome, is studied by glycomics;
  • The nonsenseome, which isn’t the compilation of Jenny McCarthy‘s anti-vaccine messages, but rather the totality of non-mutated DNA in the body, studied as nonsenomics;
  • And of course, the microbiological composition of a body or environment became the word I most likely tweet the most, the microbiome.

Of course, what would ‘omes and ‘omics be like without one to encompass the entirety of them?  Yes, if you want to be the Ken Jennings of this part of the science knowledge base, you can focus on the omeome and study omeomics.

At first, I was completely against the whole ‘ome’ and ‘omics’ world but perhaps I’ve been thinking this all wrong. Maybe there is purpose behind all the ‘omics’ and ‘omes’ out there. Moreover, maybe I should embrace the concept and even come up with my own ‘ome.’

And I have…

THE GENTILLOME

For those of you who might believe this has more to do with the status of a piece of skin on a male phallus, think again. In this case, the gentillome refers to the union of beneficial pathways to improve health. The term etymology stems from the French word meaning kind:  gentille; and there is a double entendre that is homonymous with another French term: gentille homme, or kind man.

What is the scope of the gentillome?

“The gentillome is the entirety of all processes,
whether they be biological, chemical, physical or metaphysical,
that are beneficial to life, the universe, and everything.”

That’s quite the statement, I know.  But, when you’re making an ‘ome, you have to think vague and bold to start.  But to give an idea of what might in the gentillome (provided that it has applied and proven itself to be so), here are a few examples:

  • the influence of immune response to fatty acids in the gut produced by probiotics.
  • the formation of electrochemical signals in the brain that make us giggle with joy.
  • the smashing together of musical waves causing what’s known as harmony.
  • the effect of meditation on the body.
  • chivalry (as long as it’s not dead).
  • and the all-encompassing joy of gathering together to achieve a common goal that improves all of our lives.  Or as many like to call it, tweetups.  Yes, every time you sit down for a pint to discuss the online discussions in person to improve our society in a grassroots way, you are demonstrating an act of gentillomics.

Of course, like many ideas, inventions, patents, and really awesome ideas brainstormed over a moment of boredom while scanning social media, the gentillome may not have much of a chance to survive. In fact, there is more likelihood that a new species of bacteria will be named after me.  But, in some avenues of life and tabloid headlines, it’s not how long a particular idea lives, it’s who thought of it first that counts. I have made an official record of my claim as the first – and quite possibly the only – person to use the term.

I’d love to hear your ideas and whether you might like to learn more about the gentillome and ideas I have for research that may lie ahead.

Oh, and for anyone who is thinking of using the antonym to gentillome, the villainome, be aware, someone’s already on it.  Shout out to ya, Patricia!

UPDATE: You can see another take on the ‘ome and ‘omics world at the Hashtags of the Week website.  A great read I recommend.

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Exploring Self-Actualization (and Germs)

Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to have had the ability to share my views with the public through the media.  Yet even more fulfilling have been the one on one interactions with people who approach me to ask me questions about germs and our relationship with them.

But one question recently offered me an opportunity to explore our bond with germs on a deeper scale.  It was a short one with an even shorter answer but opened up a discussion I never thought I would have.

The question:  “Why do you want us to have a better relationship with germs?”

My answer: “Self-actualization.”

The quizzical look on the person’s face revealed the expectation of a different response but as we ventured further into the topic, a different perspective was unveiled.

Self-actualization is a relatively new term in the human lexicon, based on a branch of philosophy called “Organicism”, which is still best outlined in a text from 1903 called L’hérédité et les grands problèmes de la biologie générale. The essence of this theory was fairly simple yet the implications were profound:

“…life, the form of the body, the properties and characters of its diverse parts, as resulting from the reciprocal play or struggle of all its elements, cells, fibres, tissues, organs, which act the one on the other, modify one the other, allot among themselves each its place and part, and lead all together to the final result, giving thus the appearance of a consensus, or a pre-established harmony, where in reality there is nothing but the result of independent phenomena.”

While “organicism” was enough to placate a number of theorists, for researchers such as neuropsychologist, Kurt Goldstein and psychologist Abraham Maslow, this definition wasn’t enough.  An individual had to be aware of how all the different parts worked together to bring about a healthier self…or as they coined it, self-actualization.

Both researchers set out on a path to identify just how we could be more self-actualized. Goldstein took a medical approach focusing on language while Maslow took a humanistic one.  Both, however, came up with similar conclusions:

In order to have a better life, we must first identify the individual parts that
make up our lives and then figure out how these parts work together.
More importantly, there is a need to understand whether the relationship
can be changed by outside influences.

From a biological perspective, Maslow offered a rather intriguing look at how self-actualization works in our daily lives.  His target was not some abstract component of behaviour but rather one that has become all the rage in the health world:  Vitamin D.

Back in 1973, in his book, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, Maslow noted that Vitamin D is a needed nutritional supplement to keep babies from catching colds and suffering other illnesses.  Deprivation not surprisingly led to sickness.  Replacing the vitamin with a poor surrogate led to the same problem.  Essentially, in order to live a happy and healthy life, one needed to ensure that the body (and the mind) were supplied with proper supplements and not subjected to either deprivation or an unsuitable replacement.

In essence, by changing one component of a healthy life in a negative way, the entire existence suffers.

Up until a few decades ago, this theory may have had little in common with the world of germs.  After all, for most of history, germs have been our enemies.  But with the identification of good germs, probiotics, and the microbiome, our view of the microbial world has shifted.  Only a small percentage are truly enemies while the majority are either beneficial or even essential to a healthy life.

Today, we know that health is directly related to germs.  The makeup of our gut microbiota can influence a number of different health factors, from body weight, to management of chronic conditions to psychological state.  While we continue to learn from researchers, the trend is unmistakable.  Much like Vitamin D, germs are a necessary part of our existence and if we are deprived of them or worse, given improper surrogates, our happiness and health is in jeopardy.

But self-actualization is more than just knowing, it is also acting.  No matter how much you might know about Vitamin D, if you don’t take the supplement or get some sunlight, the knowledge will do you no good.  The same exists with germs.

Unfortunately, for most people, that is a problem as there is almost no availability of information on how to keep a good rapport with our microbial counterparts (although The Germ Code is available for pre-sale).  This gap leaves many with questions, concerns and in some cases health issues that might be managed or resolved by simply changing the relationship.

As The Germ Guy, I try to fill that gap the best way I can. Promoting the use of good germs and means to avoid the bad ones is only the beginning. Bringing light to new revelations in the scientific literature increases awareness; highlighting new trends helps individuals decide on beneficial actions; and linking germs to some of our most popular cultural phenomena brings the microbial world closer to our reality.  It’s all in the name of helping self-actualization and bringing about a happier and healthier life.

The talk led to some thinking on the part of the asker and ended with another form of self-actualization.  This person, who is an expert in a different field of science, decided to start an expert blog. The goal, like mine, would be to help people self-actualize in that specific scientific realm.  I was thrilled.

I also learned one other aspect of self-actualization that I hadn’t given much thought.  By acting on our own motivation and striving to better one’s life (and perhaps the world’s), we can also inspire others to do the same.  While my work will always focus on germs, I am happy to know that the impact reaches far beyond the microbiome and into people’s motivation.  That in itself is perhaps the highest honour.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

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