Monday, April 25, 2016

Dawson knowlegable only about bacteria colonies : but this was a FEATURE, not a bug

Back in the bad old days, most scientists thought bacteria existed as most senior university tenured bacteriologists had willed them to exist : as a conveniently pure strain of free living planktons in an ocean of tasty lab medium.

Much lower ranking scientists also interested in bacteria frequently saw them mostly out in the 'real world' (say on our teeth or as pond scum) living in densely crowded mixed colonies.

Who was 'more' right ?

Dr Henry Dawson inhabited both worlds - both as a lab scientist and as a clinical doctor.

But in the end, he seemed mostly interested in the behavior of bacteria as exhibited while alive in big colonies.

Partly this was because even the very best microscopes he had to work with, microscopes that work with visible light, work best examining living bacterial colonies closely for gross changes, not peering deep inside the bodies of individual bacteria.

Electron microscopes did exist while he was alive - one even examined his prize standard strain but the images revealed little that was new and anyway, both the big colony had to be destroyed and the individual bacteria killed, to be examined successfully by the electron microscope.

Are today's molecular biologists' sneers justified ?

Later generations of  molecular biologists sneered at Dawson's generation for focussing on colonies of bacteria living in the real world, rather than getting down to the nitty gritty at molecular level inside the bacteria inside the lab.

Here I need to point out that is in fact how their brand of biology still works in practise - they all end up working their magic on colony sized samples, despite their disclaimers, though the colonies remaining alive is often irrelevant.

But if in fact bacteria basically live as social beings in co-ordinated colonies most all of the time and further, that it is only their gross features that should worry us, Dawson's bug becomes a feature.

(What I mean about their gross features is the fact that a few deadly bacteria individuals can't kill us as readily as a large number of less deadly bacteria will do: quantity not quality. So we wash our hands not to kill all bacteria, only to kill enough of them so that ingesting the small remainder wouldn't make us ill.)

Seeing bacteria primarily as colonies, visible through the eye of any low priced and lower-powered microscope, begins to make sense...

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