The Lost War Against Bacteria
Michelle Rioux of Lonza Industrial Solutions finished her presentation "Metal Removal Biocides - What's Left?" at 3:00 PM on Day One of the ILMA conference. But for me, her message of doom was delivered much earlier. By 2:40, I understood clearly that there was no real hope for mankind. All is lost. There is no killing this stuff. Zombies? They're real. It's just a matter of time before the right bacteria species organize and figure out how to kill us all. The previous sessions enjoyed good attendance without overcrowding. This presentation was different. The room was packed with standing room only. With the doors shut, the room became uncomfortably warmer as the news became grimmer. It was just like the scene in the movies where all of the townsfolk cram into the church for a meeting about the aliens, the fog, the zombies, and the mysterious animal carcasses found lying around town. The sheriff pleads with everyone to remain calm, but he has no answer for the angry grocer who yells out "How are you planning to kill these things?" As kids, we all watched ants go about their business and marveled at how they did all of that without having a real brain to pass a thought through. As we got older we marveled at humans who similarly survive with apparently little more to work with, particularly in the field of politics. As presented by Ms. Rioux, we are now beginning to better understand that bacteria are very social creatures as well. They seem to have some kind of creepy survival intelligence. They form colonies. They form biofilms as a survival strategy and change their behavior once in the community environment. They communicate. They share resources and transport waste and resources across their community boundaries. They protect each other and sacrifice for one another through the process of biomass shielding. Most amazing of all, they respond and adapt to our attacks on them as evidenced by microbial rebound. They revive themselves and become stronger, and more resistant to the chemical attacks by humans using their best available technology to destroy them. They even use our efforts to create a food source for themselves. It hasn't been proven yet, but evidence indicates that each biofilm colony contains at least three legitimate political parties, proving they are far more advanced than we are. Increasing regulation may make management of microorganisms more difficult, but it is also causing us to reevaluate the strategies we employ in our war on bacteria. We lost the war on poverty. We lost the war on drugs. We're losing the war on bacteria. Ms. Rioux's well attended presentation included a listing of the chemical weapons available and detailed the mechanisms of functionality where understood. In they end, the desperate recommendation is that certain of these weapons having different mechanisms of functionality can be combined to more effectively suppress the populations of microorganisms. But the bottom line is this: They'll be back.