Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Beware of the Superbugs.

Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School-on-Air) with Ms Melly C Tenorio

738 DZRB AM Band, 8 to 9 evening class Monday to Friday

Termites ready to develop wings and emerge into swarms come rainy season. Global warming has emboldened termites to attack homes and forests. (Photo taken at Parks and Wildlife Nature Center)

Gamu-gamu or simut-simut.
These are the winged termites. These ordinarily shy, tunnel-dwelling insect suddenly take into the air at night in a swarm, attracted by light in our homes and towns. There is a new breed of super termite that has destroyed thousands of homes in Southern United States since the 1950’s after it was accidentally introduced from China. The insect continued to develop resistance to eradication despite U.S. advances in biology and chemistry.

We trace this superb resistance on two views. First, this super termite is the survivor of chemical spraying. Pesticides may have eradicated the weaker members of its population, but the survivors carry the acquired resistance. After several generations, and the super termite was formed. This genetic advantage may explain the species’ survival, but what about its successful geographic adaptation and distribution? This brings us to my second observation.

Frequent rains and floods predispose wood to soften or even rot, making it more palatable to the cellulose-eating insect. It prefers old wood and the southern states have houses as old as the Mayflower expedition. These conditions provide a perfect termite abode, and together with its symbionts, protozoa in its stomach and wood fungus as pre-digester, termite empires continue to spread from one house after another.

Then at swarming time (which now occurs more frequently than once a year), it is easy for a new termite swarm to start new colonies, which today can be as convenient in book shelves, wooden appliances, apparadors, and office files, as well as posts, beams, floors and walls. And by the way, according to Discovery TV channel, termites strangely eat twice as fast, given an ambiance of loud metallic music (or noise). Watch out for the floor!

The Case of the Fire Ant

We encounter red ants, Solenopsis geminata, in the kitchen, picnic grounds, and garden. According to old folks, when they emerge from their nest to seek shelter on higher grounds, carrying their young and food, they proclaim the arrival of heavy rain.

But it is not this kind of ant of which we are more concerned now. In Florida, a super red ant has spread all over the state and is still moving via floodwaters. A mass of ants, by the thousands, would simply float on water currents landing on a new territory, and then break into several colonies. That is how efficiently the ant is spread, a new adaptation that other ants do not possess.

The sting of this super ant contains a poisonous formic acid. A person who is allergic to it could die from just a single sting. While this ant may be beneficial in one way by devouring destructive insects on the farm, the very sign of its presence in such magnitude is alarming. The US Department of Agriculture even uses GP (Global Positioning) Satellite to monitor and identify the foragers’ locations and sizes of their colonies to assist in their eradication.

The Case of the Super Bacteria

In 1993, tens of thousands of people in Milwaukee suddenly got sick and the suspected culprit is a bacterium that lives in the cloudy waters of Lake Michigan which supplies the areas’ potable water. But Lake Michigan has long been polluted. From the view deck on Sears Tower, one can smell the foul odor of the lake. What is surprising is that the pathogen has found a way to defy ordinary water treatment methods.

Such is how the Milwaukee pathogen has proliferated. During the El Nino of 1993, melting snow joined the floodwaters, washing down animal manure and other organic wastes from upland farms and homes, and dumping them into the lake. This has the effect of fertilizing the bacterium. Ecologists call this sudden bacterial upsurge “bloom”, which is similar to the algal bloom phenomenon.

To control the epidemic, drinking water had to be boiled, and water treatment methods intensified until the bacterium is eliminated. These procedures are necessarily very costly operations.

A culture of Mycobacterium tubercolosis bacteria. More resistant strains of the bacterium has place the disease back as one of the ten leading diseases in developing countries. (Photo Wikipedia)

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