Sunday, July 31, 2016

A World Without Smells

We’re reading about Ed Yong’s new book, I Contain Multitudes. It’s about the microbiome and how it runs our bodies.

Wired writer Sarah Fallon interviews Yong, and one of the first thing she asks is this –
“What would happen if every germ on Earth suddenly vanished?”

To which Yong responds –
“All hell would break loose. Animals that eat grass (deer, cows, horses) would starve, since they need germs in their stomachs to digest cellulose. Coral would bleach out. “In the deep oceans, many worms, shellfish, and other animals rely on bacteria for all of their energy,” Yong writes. “Without microbes, they too would die, and the entire food webs of these dark abyssal worlds would collapse.” And don’t stand there all smug, vegetarians. Microbes make nitrogen, and plants need nitrogen, so there’s the rest of the food supply shot. Also, as Yong says, “microbes are lords of decay.” There would be shit (and rotting leaves and dead bodies) everywhere.”

Cool. Now, first thing I ask is – what does this smell like? But wait, does it smell at all? And then, wait, microbes do all the decomposing, all of it. So not only is there no rotting, there’s no decomposition of any kind, isn’t that right? Everything stays in a state of suspended bacterial animation. And now I’m thinking a bit far afield and off subject, but does that mean somehow ridding a planet of its microbes is a kind of instant fossilization?

Sarah Fallon, 2016 July 28, Wired

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