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The Germ Guy: Confessions of a Mercurial Microbiologist

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Am I Checking Into A Hotel Horror?

If you travel as much as I do, that moment when you open a hotel room door and drag yourself inside can bring about that feeling of…

relax(Ahhh….)

The journey is over as are the various stresses that come with going from one place to another. You can take a nice, deep breath, turn on the TV, and maybe take a nice hot shower or bath.

But, thanks to a recent article from the website Travelmath.com, you might want to forego all of those activities unless of course, you’re wearing this….

hazmat(Could this look more ominous?)

The site wanted to look at the microbial contamination of hotel rooms and reached out to a testing laboratory to help them find out. A variety of objects were swabbed, such as the remote, the bathroom counter, the desk, and the phone. The swabs were cultured for microbial number and type. Basically it was…

cup(Standard Microbiology…)

The group examined several hotels ranging from three-star to five-star ratings hoping to find differences between the different scales of comfort. When it was all said and done, they reported the results as follows…

(You can see where this is going…)

Not surprisingly, hotel rooms were covered in germs. In some instances, over 1 million were collected per square inch (for you metric folks, that’s about 180,000 per square centimetre). The worst was the bathroom counter but it was closely followed by something almost everyone uses…

remote(The remote control…)

But this wasn’t the biggest shock. That came when the levels of microbes were compared between the different ratings. The cleanest remotes happened to be in three-star hotels. The five-star had well over 2 million bacteria…

jerry
(Yeah, I know…)

Similar differences were seen for other surfaces as well. All things being considered, the numbers suggest a three-star hotel would be better for your health as well as your wallet.

Yet this wasn’t the whole story. When the microbial types were analyzed, the three-star rooms appeared to have more diversity among the lower numbers. As for the five-star, only a few types were isolated but in very high concentrations.

I know what you’re thinking…

farquaad(Or some other reasonable facsimile…)

The answer most likely lies in the difference between the way three-star and five-star hotels are maintained. The lower ratings are usually capable of having fresh air through windows while many five-star hotels only use recirculated air. This would account for the difference in both diversity (open windows) and numbers (higher concentrations in ventilation).

It may seem like a no-win situation leaving anyone checking into a hotel facing what could best be described as a…

crap-shoot(Health crap shoot…)

But don’t start counting your unlucky rolls just yet. While the information does seem to suggest there may be a risk for infection, there was one small, tiny piece of data missing from the study…

scream(ARE THEY INFECTIOUS?)

That question was never answered. However, many of the types mentioned were environmental in nature and thus harmless. Most appeared to be good old-fashioned human bacteria, which pose little threat to others. Any apparent risk was low at best.

There was one saving grace to this article. The site did recommend people wash their hands often and also bring along disinfectant wipes. Both of these suggestions are excellent and should be a part of anyone’s travel activities. I always have wipes, sanitizer, and of course my scarf because…

mask-scarf(It’s fashionable and gets no extra attention at airport security!)

If you happen to be travelling, you might want to make these items a part of your everyday necessities. If you happen to be spending some time waiting, you may also want to have this…

germ-files(You never know when you’ll run into me and I always have my pen)

If you want to read the entire article on hotel germs, you can find it here: What are the germiest surfaces in hotel rooms?

Make Armpits Smell Great Again!

Officially, that crevice between your arms and your torso is known as the axillary region. But to most people, it’s simply known as…

Smell central…

If you have read The Germ Files, you know armpit aroma is caused by the various different types of microbes living on your skin. Depending on the species calling this area home, the scent may be mildly unpleasant to well…

stink2(You get the idea…)

Figuring out how to prevent those egregious emanations can be a challenge. Washing is obviously going to help although the effects may only last a few hours. Deodorants and antiperspirants offer some comfort yet they can falter over time and may end up making the situation worse.

But there may be hope for a sweet-smelling future thanks to a rather odd-sounding technique called…

drarmpit(Microbial Axillary Transplantation)

The concept comes from a researcher named Dr. Chris Callewaert, who is better known as Dr. Armpit (thus the name on the white coat above). Since 2013, he has performed close to 20 such transplants and has had great results in helping people deal with the caustic condition.

The technique is rather simple. Microbes are taken from a person who isn’t guilty of olfactory offenses, and placed into the armpit of another. The bacteria can then annex the axillary and reduce or even remove the fetid fragrance.

At the moment, Dr. Armpit seems to be the only person conducting this type of microbial ministration. But once he publishes his transplant technique in a scientific journal, the practice is sure to spread like…

leonard(Sweat on a stylish shirt…)

After all, we all know the importance of body odour. In our society, having an appropriate scent is both a social and a professional necessity. Not to mention, for those who are commuting to and from work or school…

armpit-worry(It’s common courtesy…)

To learn more about Dr. Armpit and the work he does, you can head over to his website: drarmpit.com. If you wish to get into detail on the procedure, you can read a rather thorough thesis on the topic here: Combatting body odor by the means of microbial transplantations.

 

 

 

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0070538

 

A GIF is worth 5,000 words

I love research papers. But I understand not everyone shares my fascination with the academic form of writing. Some people have told me when they are asked to read a scientific article, they wish they had this…

nope(We could all use the NOPE button)

I hear you. I know it may not be fun reading thousands of words, many of which are acronyms or jargon. Then you have to deal with those tables that seem to go on forever and graphs that look like they were made using…

excel(You get the idea)

Worst of all are methods sections, which are incredibly complex and usually so out of touch with the rest of the world, they are simply skipped. For those who do read them, sometimes they come across the phrase, “as described previously.”  This one line means they have to go back to the cited reference and try to find the protocol in another paper, which, by the way, may also have that same line in the methods…

stress(My reaction when that happens…)

But every now and then, an article comes around that breaks the mold. A few years ago, one such paper was published in the Journal of Immunology. It’s a thorough examination of how certain immune cells target and kill other cells. You can find it and read it here:
Rapid and Unidirectional Perforin Pore Delivery at the Cytotoxic Immune Synapse

But a little advanced warning. The article itself is quite long…about 5,000 words in total. To put that into perspective, my latest book comprised of about…

TGF v5(80,000 words)

As you can imagine, the paper is quite a bit for anyone to take in and I’m sure it doesn’t make as nice a Christmas gift as say, a nice, fresh paperback…

just_sayin(Too obvious?)

All plugs aside, the article does provide an excellent look at how the immune system combats cancer cells in the body. However, because of the length and the content, most people might never know the wonders of immunity in keeping us healthy.

But the authors found a way around this hurdle. Rather than accept the article was doomed to stay on a website unread, they decided to give readers something a little more interesting. They added a video, which has been turned into…

t-cell-killing(A GIF)

Without reading a single word from the paper, you can understand what is going on. It’s incredibly simple and requires no lengthy explanation. Granted, the process happening at the molecular level is quite complex but unless you happen to be an immunologist, the details may not be all that informative.

This example of visualizing research is still considered to be rare among scientific publications, but thanks to the beauty of imagery equipment, we should be seeing far more of these displays in the future. The end result may not be as captivating as this GIF, but I truly believe this path will help inform people in a meaningful way and also, spread the good word of science.

Now if only they could show this with a 360 degree camera…I would love to see this in VR.

Smell Like You’re Still On Vacation…

This week, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend one of the top notch conferences held in the United States every year…

sfn2(hosted by the Society for Neuroscience)

It was quite the experience as over 30,000 converged to discuss all aspects of neurology. As you might expect, I was thrilled to see dozens of posters and talks on the effects of microbiology and immunology on neurological function. I had a blast talking with various researchers on their topics and learned just how much these fields are coming together…

campfire
(Kumbaya!)

The best part about going to the conference was the time spent…5 days. This meant it allowed me the opportunity to perform one of my favorite experiments. It like to call it…

smell-testHow Did I Smell On Vacation?!

I’ve been trying this on and off for the last 15 years. The first time was when I was in the jungles of the Amazon. While many of you might remember I brought up this trip in…

germcode(Makes for a great Christmas gift!)

When I returned to civilization, it occurred to me I hadn’t quite left the forest behind. For the next day, I had this wild and exotic smell all over me. When I asked the residents what that aroma happened to be, they simply called it…

jungle-funk(Very appropriate…)

By the time the second day came around, the difference between the city smell and my smell was a little to much and I sought solace in the shower.

Ever since then, whenever I have a trip longer than 3 days, I like to perform this experiment to see just what it was like to be covered in the microbes of that particular area. I bring up how microbes contribute to our smell in…

germ-files(The British cover…perfect for under the Christmas tree)

I’ve found it takes about that long to have enough microbial shift to make a difference in the way I smell. Mind you, the scent is stronger after five days and really sets in after ten.

So, before I tell you what it was like to be in San Diego, I’ll provide you with my protocol to achieve the best results. Thankfully, no pipettes or electron microscopes required.

  • Step 1. Visit a different ecosystem for at least three days
  • Step 2. Make sure you get a good ‘dose’ of the air, water, and land just before you leave
  • Step 3: Upon getting home, change BUT don’t shower or take a bath
  • Step 4: Go to sleep for the night (jet lag and all)
  • Step 5: Wake up in the morning and take a deep breath of the outside air
  • Step 6: Find a quiet corner and start sniffing yourself.

You should find your scent will be different than what you might be used to at home. Having been to a variety of different areas of the world, I’ve found some confer a salty/sweet smell – like Costa Rica, others are a bit more dense and acrid, like New Orleans, and a few are so complex – like the jungle – they need to be experienced to be believed.

As for San Diego, you might think the smell might be…

chargers(Electric!)

In reality, it was more eclectic. My skin emanated with a plume of pungent, astringent, and sharp aromas. I felt as if I had been close to an oil field rather than a beachfront. The odour was also rather unpleasant compared to that Toronto smell. I’m not suggesting it was worse, but the clash was a little too much for my olfactory system…

shower-time(Shower time!)

If you want to take this to a whole new level, you could culture the bacteria on the skin in the hopes of identifying the species and their byproducts leading to those aromatic emanations. I admit, in other times, I may have been tempted to do the same. But sadly, I am suffering from a serious case of…

jetlag(Jet lag)

So, I’m going to be happy knowing my experiment was once again a success and look forward to smelling once again like a Torontonian after a good night’s sleep.

Is My Car Out To Kill Me?

Anyone who has a car knows how valuable it can be in getting around. But this great modern invention does come with some drawbacks. It’s been considered a major source of pollution and contributes to global warming.

Thankfully there’s a solution for that…

green-carGreen Cars!

Then there are the issues with having to deal with other drivers. Although most of the time people are reasonably safe, there are moments when you realize the roads can be rather stressful…

cutmeoff(If you don’t get this, Google “Gotye”)

Most of the time, the downsides are not due to the car itself but rather the use of the vehicle. Then, out of nowhere, a report came out last week suggesting the lowly automobile is….

sickcarAn automaton of health woes!

The story was covered by several media organizations but the most amusing came from the Daily Mail. You can read it here: Is YOUR car a health hazard? Study reveals vehicle interiors are 2,144% filthier than smartphones.

As the title of the story implies, the car is a haven for microbes and may be a source of infection. But if you read further, there is an even greater consequence. If you don’t do something about those germs, your car may depreciate faster as a result of odours and rust accumulation.

When I read this, my immediate reaction was….

jon-stewart-confused-what(this speaks for itself)

It turns out the study was sponsored by a company called SellCar.co.uk, which as you might expect, is devoted to the car trade business. For them, the latter risks appeared to be more important than health.

That being said, the implication of the car as a bastion of bacterial badness can leave people wondering whether their cars can indeed make them sick. Unfortunately, the Daily Mail article as well as others don’t address this issue.

Thankfully, there was one person who was up to the task of answering this question once and for all…

joelatimer(Dr. Joe Latimer from the University of Salford)

Dr. Latimer was the scientist behind the study and was happy to share some valuable information about the study and the results.

The first interesting tidbit was that 2144% number used in the title of the Daily Mail article. The number was not an exaggeration. Certain areas of the car did have that many more bacteria than smartphones. However, when it comes to the actual numbers isolated, the picture becomes a little less worrisome.

In a square centimetre (that’s about 0.15 square inches), smartphones had on average 1.4 bacterial colonies. Now multiply that by 2144% and you get the whopping total of…

31(Yup, that’s it.)

Now, just to put this into perspective, compare that number to say, a dishcloth, which has about 120,000 colonies. As for your gut, there are about 33 million colonies in that same area.

If you’re wondering what the total concentration of microbes in the car might be, a simple calculation can help. The entire surface area of the interior is about 20 metres squared. If you had the same number found in this study, you’d get to a total of about 6 million bacterial colonies.

This may seem like quite a bit, yet remember, each and every hour, you are shedding about 1 million bacteria as part of your microbial cloud. You’ll shed even more – up to 37 million – if you happen to be…

cardancing(Car dancing!)

If you happen to be worried about whether any of those 31 found were pathogens, despite all the efforts made to identify potential infection-causing bacteria, the search came up empty. The bacteria were part of the normal human microflora and definitely would not cause you – or your car for that matter – harm.

Obviously, the study commissioned by SellCar.co.uk made for a great headline and it gained quite a bit of interest. However, in terms of the actual risk to your health, the conclusion is rather clear…

jedi(No Jedi mind trick required…)

There is, however, one very important exception. One car – and only one – truly has your worst interest in mind. If you happen to come across this vehicle, be sure to get away as fast as you can. If you don’t it could be the end. This car is…

christine(You had to know I would go there…)

Are VR Headsets Going to Give Me Herpes?

Herpes.

The mere sound of the word is…

maxresdefault(Awful…)

The virus that causes this disease is officially known as Herpes Simplex Virus or HSV. It gets its name from the Greek word meaning “to creep or crawl.” As anyone who has studied the virus can tell you, the name is fitting.

The virus likes to get into our skin and then cause a series of extremely painful blisters. To save you the shock of seeing the results of an unfiltered Google Image Search, here is a family-friendly example…

herpes(They feel worse than they look)

These blisters last for a few weeks and then go away. However, this isn’t the end of the infection. In fact, it’s only the beginning.

Herpes doesn’t just infect us and then go away like most viruses. It stays with us in a dormant state until one day it decides to wake up and cause those blisters all over again. For anyone who suffers from this disease, it’s like being trapped in a never-ending cycle of recurring pain.

Most herpes infections are limited to a few areas of the body including the genitals – thus the earlier warning of doing that image search – and the lips, which are better known as…

cold-sore(Cold sores)

But there is another place on the body where herpes has been found time and again. Again, to prevent that whole Google Image Search shock to a minimum, here’s a family friendly image describing where the virus attacks…

dendrite-1(The eye…) 

I know…I know…

what(It’s a natural response…)

Ocular herpes may sound horrific because it is. Not only does the virus do damage to the eye, it can also lead to several other problems including glaucoma and blindness. It’s relatively hard to treat and at the moment, there is no vaccine to prevent it.

In the United States alone, this infection affects tens of thousands of people each year. Some two-thirds of people will also have recurrences throughout their lifespan. The rates don’t seem to be declining either…

badsign(It’s actually rather worrisome)

Thankfully, the virus is one of the easiest to kill. Good hygiene practices such as washing hands before touching the eyes is the best way to keep the virus from causing a potentially life-long nightmare.

But hands may not be the only route of transmission. Last week, a new suspect was put into the spotlight…

vr-headset(The Virtual Reality Headset)

Apparently, people were catching this virus at trade shows and demo booths. The headsets were being passed from person to person without being cleaned in between. This sparked a major concern in the gaming community and eventually was picked up by the website Game Rant. You can read the entire article here: VR Headset Blamed for Ocular Herpes Outbreak

Although the actual route of transmission wasn’t discussed, you can imagine how this happened. An individual suffering from herpes infection handled the device, contaminating the headset and turning it into a carrier. Any subsequent use then led to a risk for infection.

Talk about making something literally, “go viral.”

startrek
(I had to…)

Before you decide never to use a VR headset, I should point out the Game Rant article was clear to state this outbreak was based on personal experience and not a scientific study. Yet, even without the involvement of the CDC or other public health authorities, the news does offer some perspective on the need for hygiene everywhere.

Should you decide to try out virtual reality at a show, demo, or other event, make sure it is clean before you use it. This is as easy as using a disinfectant wipe and waiting a minute before using the device. This will kill most pathogens, including herpes, making it safe for use. That way, you can be sure you will enjoy the virtual world without fear of dealing with a real-world viral problem.

If you want to learn more about ocular herpes, there is a great article reviewing the infection. You can find it here: Ocular herpes simplex: changing epidemiology, emerging disease patterns, and the potential of vaccine prevention and therapy.

A “Smashing” Antibiotic Resistance Story…

Sometimes, a story appears on my feed and the first thing I want to do is…

smash(Let’s call it…SMASH!)

This morning, that emotion bubbled to the surface when I read a recent story about an Indian drug industry lobby group’s response to a massive problem.

In the middle of the country, near the city of Hyderabad…

patancheru(To get you oriented)

There is Kazipally Lake. It’s a small lake – some call it a pond – but it has made big news over the last few years. It’s because this one site has become the “poster child” for the uncontrolled spread of antibiotic resistance. As one cartoon depicts it…

pharma-to-farma(Drugs For All, Sustainability For None) 

As you might expect, there is a pharmaceutical plant in the area. It’s called Aurobindo Pharma. It produces a number of different types of drugs, including antibiotics. While the output of this plant is beneficial for all through a generous supply of pills, the waste ends up here…

discharge(Not pretty, is it?)

As you might expect, much of this runoff contains residuals of antibiotics. These then flow into Kazipally Lake where they encounter the microbial population living in the water. As we all know by now, when this happens, antibiotic resistance is bound to occur. As to how much, let’s compare with other bodies of water…

lakes-compare(Take a guess which one is Kazipally?)

Several other studies have confirmed this lake is a haven for antibiotic resistance genes. If you want to check them out, just hit up Google Scholar and type in: “Kazipally.” Or just click the link that already does it for you: Google Scholar Results For Kazapally

At this point of the story, you might already be wondering what is wrong with these people. I have for years. But now comes the part of the story that will simply make you…

hulk-angry(Don’t SMASH yet…)

The Pharmaceutical Export Promotion Council, also known as Pharmexil, released a statement saying there is no impact from pharmaceutical production. It went on to suggest any regulations to slow down the dumping of antibiotics would lead to economic disaster and hurt exports of drugs.

In other words, they were saying…

innocent(It gets worse…)

It’s not that they don’t believe there is antibiotic resistance. Pharmexil admits antibiotic resistance is indeed a problem. Yet, despite agreeing to this reality, they have no intention to make any changes. Without government regulation – which no doubt they will oppose – nothing will get done.

Now you are where I was when I read the article, which is pretty much here…

hulk-smash(Just not my computer…)

This tale, while incredibly frustrating, nicely sums up the troubles we all face when it comes to actually doing something about resistance. We can reduce the number of prescriptions, we can adhere to antibiotic abstinence in agriculture, and we can talk about how we can all do more to stop the antibiotic era.

But what we cannot do is stop the production of these drugs. They are necessary…at least for now. Without proper government regulations to keep manufacturers in check, stories like Kazipally will inevitably put all of our futures at risk.

Trying to get authorities to do something about it, however, well, that’s another kind of smashing…

earth-wall(Fitting isn’t it?)

If you still want to read the story, you can find it here:  India drug industry lobby hits back at antibiotic pollution claims

 

 

The Science Behind The Perfect Cup of Coffee…

I’ll be honest…I love coffee…as long as it’s good. After all, there are many options out there and some are less appealing than others…

bulletproof(I prefer cream, thanks)

One of the characteristics behind the perfect cup is the origin of the bean. There are so many different types of coffee beans and everyone has their favorite. At one time, I was all about the Blue Mountain coffee. Then I went through an African phase. These days, I’m loving…

poasThe Volcanic Earth!

But source is really a personal decision. The science comes in when it’s time to turn those beans into that delicious black elixir.

The most known step is the brewing process. Add hot water to beans…wait…pour. Simple enough, right? But it’s a little more complicated than that…

oh-really(He was such a great actor…)

If the water is too hot, the taste will be bitter. If the water isn’t hot enough, the extraction will be incomplete. The best temperature is somewhere between 90 and 95 degrees Celsius (or about 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit). The perfect way to accomplish this is by using…

kettleA transparent kettle!

Not only can you monitor the boiling process, it’s also really fun to watch the as the water increases in temperature. The way the various molecules move around and create some visually stunning waves is captivating. Then there’s the actual boiling moment when the seemingly serene turns into churning chaos. It’s absolutely fascinating…or depending on your perspective…

yawn(I’ll get on with it)

Going back a step, the nature of the beans is also important to the prefect brew. A uniform distribution of same sized particles is needed for maximal extraction of those flavourful chemicals.

To achieve this, we use grinders. I know they come in different shapes and sizes but they all have the same parts…the hopper, the motor, the shoot and the actual grinding burs….

(It’s a relatively simple design)

You put the beans in the hopper, turn on the power and let the burrs do their job. Out the shoot comes the ground coffee and you’re good to go.

If, however, you take a microscope to those particles and examine the size of the the grinds, you’ll see a distribution curve of sizes ranging from about 1/100th of a millimetre to 1/10th of a millimetre. Graphically, it looks something like these graphs…

bean-image-2

(The higher the hump the more particles you’ll find)

This distribution curve is fairly common among all grinders. The majority will fall into one of a few particle sizes with the rest being spread out evenly across the spectrum. The goal is to be maximize the number of smaller particles to increase surface area….

makes-sense(At least I hope it does…)

There is, however, a slight twist. When grinding happens on a regular basis – such as in a coffee shop – another physical parameter enters the equation….

heat(Temperature)

As the blades get hotter, the possibility for a different grind may occur. This could lead to a change in particle size and alter the distribution. But no one really knows how exactly heat may effect the perfect cup.

For a group of researchers – and I am sure coffee lovers – this question needed to be answered. They underwent an series of experiments involving temperature and grinding and found a rather interesting phenomenon. As the heat increased, so did the size of the particles. In addition, the evenness of the distribution…

bean-image
(Colder temperatures mean smaller particles)

The study reveals two important recommendations to achieve the perfect cup. First, the beans should be kept cold prior to grinding. Although the experiments spanned from room temperature to liquid nitrogen, the most practical option would be to put the coffee…

beans-freezer
(Coffee on ice…not iced coffee)

The best option is to take as many beans as you need for a week and put them in the freezer. This will ensure the the majority of particles will be small enough to maximize surface area and provide the most flavour. Limiting the number of beans used will also prevent that freezer burn taste over time.

The second applies to coffee shops who are continually grinding beans. Based on the experiments, as the grinder gets warmer, the size of the particles increases. To achieve consistent results, the grind setting may need to be reduced over time or the burrs need to be kept cool at all times. Although the authors didn’t discuss how this could be achieved, there is one way that might work…

ice-barIce baristas!

The final point was more in passing as the researchers tested several different types of coffees from across the world. No matter where they were sourced, the beans all acted in a similar manner. So, regardless if you are a lover of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, Indonesian Sumatra, Brazilian Minas, or like me, Costa Rican Paos, keep those beans cold and you’ll always enjoy that perfect cup of coffee.

If you want to read the entire study, you can find it here:
The effect of bean origin and temperature on grinding roasted coffee

 

 

California and The New Holy Grail of Climate Change…

Earth is a dynamic place and sometimes, it’s a lot like Camelot…

sillyplace(Can you see where this is going?)

The most significant of terrestrial modulations is a term known as climate change. It’s been going on longer than humans have been around but as of late, it has become a rather contentious issue. Anyone who tries to bring up the subject is almost guaranteed to face a rather unwelcome response..

burn_themTroll them! (hey, it’s 2016)

The reason for the anger stems from an offshoot of the discussion…who’s the blame? Sadly, many environmentalists and other scientists claim the answer isn’t…

duck(or a Drake for that matter)

Instead, they point the finger at humans. They even have a rather interesting name for the impact of we have on the planet. It’s called the anthropogenic effect. Although this is all-encompassing, it’s usually used to describe how our activities are leaving Earth…

blackknightArmless (and legless too).

If you head into the trusted Google Scholar, you’ll find hundreds of papers describing how humans are doing bad things to the planet. It seems almost everything we do is leading to some kind of environmental trouble, including climate change.

Humans are not the only cause of climate change it seems. Another culprit has been identified as being a major contributor to our world’s atmospheric alterations. You might think this may be related to cosmic rays or some other heavenly body…

montypythongodblame    (Don’t worry, it’s not Him)

The perpetrator is an Earthly being known to be a part of our agricultural existence for thousands of years. It’s large, docile, and can produce numerous foods for our consumption. Not to mention, it also makes for a great way to…

PreflightProtect the Castle!

Yes, it is the lowly and lowing cow, or, if you happen to be a French Kuh-nih-gut, a vache. These large creatures have been firmly placed in the column of climate change causers. As for exactly how these gentle and usually harmless mammals accomplish this ominous task…

hornsThis may give you a hint.

Cows are known to suffer from belching and flatulence. These emissions primarily are comprised of air but many of these bovine bursts also have a large amount of methane gas. This is important because this molecule is far worse than carbon dioxide at holding in heat. It’s a major greenhouse gas.

For the record, gas isn’t the only output during these moments of enteric egest. Which is why when a cow raises its tail, the only option is to…

run-away(I am talking from experience here)

Over the course of a year, a single cow can produce the same amount of methane as a car driving some 12,000 km (that’s about 7,000 miles). Considering there are over a billion cows on the planet at any given time, this can add up to almost 25% of all the methane production on the planet.

laughingTalk about an Inconvenient Truth!

With the potential to make such a large difference in climate, some environmentally-conscious people may think methane reduction in cows is akin to a New Holy Grail. The concept of removing so much greenhouse gas through natural implementations may be just too good to ignore.

Last month, the California government all but proved this theory by bringing in a new climate change initiative. The governor signed into law a bill, known as: SB-1383: Short-lived climate pollutants: methane emissions: dairy and livestock: organic waste: landfills.
You can read the whole text here:
https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160SB1383

Within this rather long piece of legislation is a paragraph that states the government will…

“Conduct or consider livestock and dairy operation research on dairy methane emissions reduction projects, including, but not limited to, scrape manure management systems, solids separation systems, and enteric fermentation.” 

Those last two words…enteric fermentation…are the key to controlling methane from those outwardly emissions. After all, methane is formed during digestion by the microbes in the gastrointestinal tract. They are the real villains of climate change and need to be the target for any resolution.

Of course, the minute you start talking about microbes, of which trillions exist in each and every cow, the picture suddenly becomes a little more troublesome…

hand-grenade(and there’s no holy hand grenade to help…)

Achieving this goal is going to be rather difficult. No matter how brave the scientific knights may be, they are sure to find themselves dealing with problems that to most may seem as easy as handling a bunny but for them wind up being akin to…

rabbitThe Killer Rabbit!

Even if solutions are found, the ideas and interventions will have to go into the academic, policy, and public realms where they will be challenged in a variety of ways. Sadly, the questions won’t be as easy as…

giphy-facebook_s(FYI: 24 miles per hour for a European swallow)

But even if these thresholds are met, there is yet another hurdle to face. Farmers are not happy with the entire concept. The bill is only a month old and the cries of denouncement are getting louder. Productivity may be hurt. Farms may lose profits. The entire agricultural industry may be at risk. Most importantly, why is the government trying to control our cows? These have all been spoken and it seems more griping is to come.

It’s obvious the answer to bovine methane production needs to be inexpensive, easy to implement, and most importantly, adoptable for the long term. If not, the result may bring them to the brink of…

slopEnding The Quest

Thankfully, there are options to achieve these goals. Evidence already suggests the use of probiotics and prebiotics – which are easy to implement and do not harm productivity – may provide an answer. However, the testing needs to be done to be sure. Other options may also reveal promise and should be investigated and scrutinized at all levels. In this way, research can work in harmony with government and business to ensure environmental sustainability and agriculture autonomy are maintained.

 

 

 

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