“What We can Learn from Our Microbiome” – New York Times, 19 May 2013

While it’s common knowledge that we inherit our genes from our parents — a.k.a. our “first genome” — our “second genome” is rarely talked about. This ‘second genome’ is the trillions of microbes that are living in our bodies, everywhere from our skin, to tongue, to intestines. These microbes have an immense impact on our health, perhaps even greater than the genes from our parents. For instance, our microbes act as managers for our immune systems, and are partially responsible for ascertaining between the good and bad that enter our bodies. Interestingly enough, while we can’t do much to change what our parents gave us, we can have a great influence on our microbiota and microbiomes.

Scientists look at our microbriota as ecosystems: all our microbes interact with each other and their environment. Disorders within this ecosystem – such as too little diversity or an excessive amount of the “wrong” type of microbes — have the potential to cause obesity, chronic diseases and other infections. Scientists also believe that diet and environment have led to an increase in autoimmune diseases in the West.

The American Gut Project’s aim is to sequence as many American guts as possible, hoping to answer the question of what effects our microbiota — diet, antibiotics, pathogens, environment, cultural traditions? — and determine its “normal” state, if there even is one.

While scientists can’t really say what a “healthy” microbiome looks like, they can pinpoint certain traits and patterns that healthier microbiomes have. Possessing a diverse set of microbes is better and something Westerners don’t necessarily have, due to processed foods, environmental toxins and overuse of antibiotics. Certain ailments and diseases, such as allergies, asthma, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, plague the West more than less-industrialized areas. Your microbiota like unprocessed foods — less processed foods have a better chance of getting through the gastrointestinal tract and to the microbiota.

Children in the West are given an average of 10-20 antibiotic treatments before the age of 18; and this isn’t the only way antimicrobials are reaching the microbiota: antibiotics exist in meat, milk and surface water. Farmers feed antibiotics to their livestock so that they gain weight, and they often come in the form of medicated feed and water.

There are some things microbiologists suggest that can help with managing you and your children’s microbiomes:

  1. Don’t immediately jump to antibiotic treatments unless medically necessary.
  2. Cleanliness is not always next to godliness: take your children outside to play in the dirt more often.
  3. Cut back on processed foods.
  4. Eat more foods that contain probiotic bacteria: yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut are good starting points.
  5. While you should still wash produce that is likely to have pesticide residue, you should, for example, not wash your hands after petting your dog or cat.

In other words, the world will be a more sustainable place to live healthy and happy  lifestyles if people in developed nations adapt some of the habits of their ancestors, as practiced today in developing nations. We do not have to worry about people in developing nations adapting habits of developed nations — it is already happening rapidly!

See our other entries:
Antibiotics and the Meat We Eat
Study Shows Bacteria Moves From Animals to Humans
Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Surround Big Swine Farms in China & US

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

May 22, 2013

Fluid Management Systems

Copyright 2013   All rights Reserved by Fluid Management Systems, Inc.

www.fluidmanagementsystem.com     subodh@fluidmanagementsystem.com

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“Supreme Court Appears to Defend Patent on Soybean” – NYTimes, 19 February 2013

Last week, the case Bowman v. Monsanto Company reached the Supreme Court. Indiana farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman was a Monsanto customer who, instead of buying seeds from Monsanto for his next harvest season, opted for a riskier situation. He bought seeds from another vendor, hoping that it would contain some Roundup Ready seeds. Bowman planted the seeds, doused them in Roundup — some of his harvest held on, and he was able to save some seeds for the next year.

The case was really about whether patent rights to seeds — and other things that replicate, reproduce or grow — continue past the first generation. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Monsanto, a move which extended not only to Monsanto’s pervasive agriculture technology, but also other modern agriculture, vaccines, cell lines, software, etc.

Farmers who buy seeds from Monsanto usually have to sign a contract that disallows them from saving seeds from the current harvest year for the following year. Farmers must purchase new seeds for every harvest season. In his argument, Bowman cited a principle called patent exhaustion, which he said lets him use products however he likes if he acquires them legally. However, lower courts ruled that Bowman’s actions were in violation of patent infringement.

A federal judge in Indiana fined Bowman over $84,000 to be paid to Monsanto, and the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld the decision. According to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, “The exhaustion doctrine permits you to use the goods that you buy. It never permits you to make another item from that item you bought.”

The Supreme Court ruling in Monsanto’s opinion correctly defends patent rights, which allow companies in diverse industries, such as agriculture, vaccines, cell lines and software to take financial and intellectual risks. These rewards partly justify companies in investing millions of dollars over a long period of time in research and development, with an uncertain outcome and years to reap the benefits and recoup costs, if ever. If Monsanto did not have a practice of needing its buyers to sign such contracts, then there would be no point in the company, or any similar company, patenting its technology.

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

March 1, 2013

Fluid Management Systems

Copyright 2013   All rights Reserved by Fluid Management Systems, Inc.

www.fluidmanagementsystem.com     subodh@fluidmanagementsystem.com

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“Genetically Modified Crops Have Led To Pesticide Increase, Study Finds” – HuffPost, 1 October 2012

Genetically modified crop (GMC) technologies have forced farmers to use more hazardous pesticides to tackle weeds and insects. GMCs, which are meant to improve plant growth and help farmers resist pests that harm plants, are actually working in reverse: GMC technologies have spurred the development of “superweeds” and “hard-to-kill” insects.

According to a study by Washington State University research professor Charles Benbrook, from 1996 (when pesticides were first introduced) to 2011, GMC use increased pesticide use by 404 million pounds. Also from 1996-2011, herbicide use increased by 527 million pounds and insecticide use increased by 123 million pounds.

In 1996, Monsanto introduced the first GMCs, herbicide-tolerant crops called “Roundup Ready” soybeans, crops that are engineered to endure Monsanto’s herbicide. Monsanto soon used the same technology for corn and cotton.

As of recent, dozens of Roundup-resistant weed species have developed, driving farmers to use more pesticides and chemicals to control these ‘super-weeds’. In the same vein, genetically modified corn and cotton, which are supposed to be poisonous for particular insects, has prompted the growth of ‘hard-to-kill’ insects.

GMCs largely control the US agricultural landscape: an estimated one of every two acres of harvested land has GMCs; and almost 95% of soybean and cotton acres, and over 85% of corn acres, are genetically modified.

The use of GMCs has the same pluses and minuses as the use of drugs for raising food  animals such as swines and bovines. We need to use antibiotics and antibacterials to protect animal health so that we can provide concentrated meat to feed 7 billion people. Excess use of these medications may lead to more resistance in humans.

Judging from the conflicting viewpoints of consumers who want safer and cheaper food, and regulators who want to protect public health, what can farmers do to satisfy consumers and regulators, while also guarding against rising costs? Perhaps there is a solution in better communication between crop and food scientists, farmers, GMC, and pesticide manufacturers and regulators.

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

January 24, 2013

Fluid Management Systems

Copyright 2013   All rights Reserved by Fluid Management Systems, Inc.

www.fluidmanagementsystem.com     subodh@fluidmanagementsystem.com

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