Tiny Creatures of Great Worth

Bacteria: there are trillions of them. And many are on our side. /

All things have been created through him and for him . . . and in him all things hold together. —Colossians 1:16–17

We are never alone. For the first nine months of our lives, we live inside our mother. After birth, we share our bodies with about a hundred trillion micro-organisms, even when we consider ourselves to be clean. This number is so large that micro-organisms outnumber the human cells of our bodies by about ten to one. When we die, these organisms live on to feed on our remains and on each other until there is nothing left. Some of these microbes are mere fellow-travelers, doing us neither good nor harm, but many are important to the way our bodies work.

The healthy gut contains between one and ten billion bacteria per gram of tissue. These tiny organisms perform several important tasks, [like] the bacteria [that] secrete a variety of enzymes that can digest components of food that our own enzymes cannot attack. The enzymes break down large, awkward molecules into small pieces that can be absorbed by the gut lining and by bacteria, both of which regard them as food. The bacteria consume the molecules they absorb there and then, and use the energy and raw materials to multiply and to make more enzymes. The gut lining passes the food to underlying blood vessels, from which it travels to the liver for processing and then on to the rest of the body.

Some of the food molecules attacked by bacterial enzymes would be toxins or carcinogens if left intact, so a second important function of gut bacteria is rendering food safer. They are also responsible for making some “foods,” particularly alcohol, more dangerous (in the case of alcohol, by metabolizing it to acetaldehyde, a toxic and probably ...

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Also in this Issue

Issue 11 / December 11, 2014
  1. Editors’ Note
  2. How Infinitely Big Is God?

    Perhaps smaller than a fraction of a fraction. /

  3. All Streams Lead to Christ

    The splendor of God’s revelation is that it is both manifold and one. /

  4. Gaudete

    Which is to say, rejoice! /

  5. Wonder on the Web

    Links to amazing stuff

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