Are tiny microbes outwitting us to steal our food?

Mar 31, 2014

It's long been know that microbes are to blame for food going off and becoming rotten but in the late 1970's, Dan Janzen of the University of Pennsylvania, and a winner of ecology's version of the Nobel Prize, suggested that making something rotten may be to the advantage of the microbes living in our food.

Now, Liverpool John Moores University's Dr Dave Wilkinson and his long-time collaborator Tom Sherratt along with two other colleagues, Graeme Ruxton from St Andrews and Martin Schaefer at the University of Freiburg, Germany, have had another go at working out mathematically how Janzen's idea might work and the results have just been published in the Proceedings of The Royal Society B.

Janzen's idea, which he says came to him after accidently buying a rotten avocado, was that over time had evolved chemicals especially to make disgusting to animals – including humans – to stop us eating food the microbes wanted for themselves!

However, there is a difficulty with this neat idea that Janzen himself spotted, namely that any microbe that didn't make these chemicals would still benefit from chemicals made by other microbes and so over time any system like this would break down as the cheating microbes became more common and eventually all microbes became scroungers that relied on others rather than doing the work of making these chemicals themselves.

In 2006 Dave Wilkinson, of the School of Natural Sciences and Psychology, working with Tom Sherratt and Rod Bain at Carleton University in Canada, had a go at turning Janzen's ideas into mathematics to see if they could find a way round this 'cheating' problem and make his ideas work. However, they couldn't find a way and it looked like Janzen's intriguing idea just didn't describe what happens in the real world.

But this new 2014 study managed to find ways of making the idea work.

As Wilkinson explains: "By comparing the results of our 2006 maths with our 2014 version we can see what the differences are and what they might mean for real microbes.

"It looks like Janzen's idea may be able to work if microbes colonize a food patch, such as a windfall apple or a dead animal, slowly enough that not all types of microbes can get there in time to use the food. In such a situation our maths suggests that microbes could evolve to produce chemicals that put off many of the animals that might want to eat the food.

"So one of the reasons that food goes off may indeed be that it stops animals eating food that the microbes want for themselves – although other reasons are probably involved too."

Wilkinson adds: "Next time you throw away rotten food consider that you may have just been outwitted by tiny microbes!"

Explore further: Biologists revisit Janzen's theory of microbe-macrobe competition with new variable

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betterexists
1.3 / 5 (3) Mar 31, 2014
In fact, Carnivores are Eating away Herbivores, our Food/Biofuel Resource.....Time to rely upon Automated Forest Agriculture TOO just by getting rid of the Carnivores completely there....No Financial Expenditure is needed to derive yield .....which is Totally Free!
As regards the security of the Fences of Farms....Use ROBOTS...Which could Capture, Cull & Store & Immediately Relay the Status to Centrally operated Computer System!
They could Fly, Work in Teams....Blind the Herbivores with Strong light focus.....Call Them, Attract them using Recorded Audio/ Video or some other approach.
Only thing needed is to protect the birds & keep the captured animals away from the Birds of Prey to prevent any losses.
Once Robots turn out to be useful for this approach...More improvements & Mass production of varieties of them can be attempted!
betterexists
1.3 / 5 (3) Mar 31, 2014
In fact, Carnivores are Eating away Herbivores, our Food/Biofuel Resource.....Time to rely upon Automated Forest Agriculture TOO just by getting rid of the Carnivores completely there....No Financial Expenditure is needed to derive yield .....which is Totally Free!
As regards the security of the Fences of Farms....Use ROBOTS...Which could Capture, Cull & Store & Immediately Relay the Status to Centrally operated Computer System!
They could Fly, Work in Teams....Blind the Herbivores with Strong light focus.....Call Them, Attract them using Recorded Audio/ Video or some other approach.
Only thing needed is to protect the birds & keep the captured animals away from the Birds of Prey to prevent any losses.
Once Robots turn out to be useful for this approach...More improvements & Mass production of varieties of them can be attempted!
When Robots can recognize human faces...why not use that tech also! Let them keep out of people & recognize sizes of animals & in due course, species.
210
1 / 5 (1) Mar 31, 2014
In fact, Carnivores are Eating away Herbivores, our Food/Biofuel Resource.....Time to rely upon Automated Forest Agriculture TOO just by getting rid of the Carnivores completely there....No Financial Expenditure is needed to derive yield


Habitat loss? A diminished gene pool due to lack of range, etc. Some possible climatic change effects? Humans are OMNIVORES just ask the Great White Shark, The Grizzly Bear, etc, etc, etc.. who are also imperiled by our omnivorous manners. There is a bit more to it than you have described here - perhaps you just needed more room to advance your thoughts in writing? Try again...please

word-
osnova
Mar 31, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
alfie_null
not rated yet Apr 01, 2014
OTOH, maybe we have developed an aversion because such an appearance suggests eating, e.g. the rotten apple, would make one sick. Some microbes, mushrooms for instance, we relish.
betterexists
1 / 5 (1) Apr 01, 2014
In fact, Carnivores are Eating away Herbivores, our Food/Biofuel Resource.....Time to rely upon Automated Forest Agriculture as given above.
Holding onto their DNA in the Labs should suffice; One day...in one future generation...They can resurrect them without their aggressive behaviors i.e with some sanity & ABILITY to survive on GRASS! When Cattle can do it...so too can carnivores with some FUTURISTIC SCIENTIFIC TINKERING, of course.
I do not mean tinkering at their organismal level but at their embryonic/genomic levels!
betterexists
1 / 5 (1) Apr 01, 2014
Girl, 19 Named Shaheena Mauled to Death by a Leopard in Kashmir on Saturday! (One of Several Such).
Death of the girl sparks off protests as local residents accuse the wild life department of inaction despite prior information about the frequent movement of a pair of leopards in the village.
Just Mull & Cull The Carnivores!

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