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Bacteria, Slime Mold, and Love

By Larry Pleasant

I have always wondered why Nature didn’t stop with the bacteria. Those kids had it all. They had absolute and complete distribution throughout this blue orb in space we call home. Early bacteria transformed the air from a raging sulfurous stew to the docile nitrogen-oxygen-etc. mix we breathe today. They created the topsoil, a seething battleground where empires are built daily upon the bodies of untold predecessors. And in the process they transformed barren crust into fertile soil for a million future generations.

After you’ve conquered and altered an entire planet where do you go from there?

If the answer that popped into in your head was, “Jump into the car and get a burger with fries,” you are correct. In fact, Nature evolved here on Earth for the past 4 billion years EXACTLY so you can jump into your car and get a burger with fries. The fact that you are doing so is in fact, proof of intent.

Slime mold growing on a beer can.  Photo by SB Johnny

Slime mold growing on a beer can. Photo by SB Johnny

For the first billion years pretty much all of life on Earth was bacteria. But since Nature, like adolescents everywhere, strives towards increasing complexity; life marched on. Why bother! What is wrong with untold gazillions of Microcritters squirming around in endless polymorphous perversity? WHY did Nature decide to recreate the whole thing on a macro scale when it had it all going down on the micro level already?

Standard answers like “Because!” and “I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you,” don’t cut it here in the world of pop science literature 101.  We must therefore default to the “Common Sense Approach” (which is darn uncommon!).

“The fact that something is so is proof of intent.”

Macro-critters world did not arise out of nothing. All animal life (that includes you, Cinderella) descended from some of my favorite crazy creatures fetchingly called slime molds.

“Yes Princess, you father IS in fact progeny of a slime mold.”

I propose the formation of a new PR organization to lobby for a revamped image for these Honored Ancestors. There must be something sexier sounding than slime molds out there. How about Macroscellular Transmogrifiers?

Check this out. Slime molds start out as amoeba-looking things running around being happy microbes. But when food gets scarce (I am unable to ascertain what a slime mold actually eats so you will have to fill in this part using your imagination), when food gets scarce they come together and turn themselves cooperatively into a worm. What! Microbes coming together to form Macrobes! They then inch along in fine wormy fashion, apparently able to sense molecules and head into Prime Slime Real Estate to put up shop.

Once they have found their new Slime Mold Shangri-La Retirement Home they plant themselves into the ground and grow a stalk which looks to this unbiased observer distinctly fungus-like; a category in which they were formerly grouped. Eventually these faux-fungi pop out a crop of spores from the top of their “heads”;which fly in the wind spreading happy slime mold babies throughout the land. These proceed to live their natural course as microscopic amoeba-like creatures, repeating the cycle again and again through time and space and millennia untold.

I love slime molds because they bridge the gap between microbes and macrobes; between the unseen micro-world and the macro one we all exist in. If we can understand how thousands or even billions of individual cells and bacteria can become one functioning sentient being, we could perhaps begin to understand what life actually is; rather than endlessly describing its symptoms. And perhaps we could then understand what love is, that mysterious force that makes all living things thrive.

Bacteria transformed a barren planet into a green one, fecund and prosperous with life forms. Long after we, dear reader are forgotten beyond time, bacteria will thrive and continue to alter their environment to make it suitable for future macro life forms.

Lest we think that bacteria are all bad eggs be reminded that good, healthful bacteria are an essential part of creating sourdough bread, real pickles, yogurt, cheese (or at least any really good cheese), kim-chi, miso, real soy sauce, and sauerkraut. Good bacteria help you to digest the food in your belly and to keep your skin from being overrun by fungus and other varieties of microbes. The good stuff crowds out the bad stuff which keeps YOU healthier.

Thank you bacteria!

Larry Pleasant is a writer, philosopher, part-time farmer and soap maker living and working in the Green Mountains of Vermont. Learn more at www.vermontsoap.com.

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