Bacteria for Scientific Thought

Originally published in the Little Silver/Oceanport, NJ Patch

For the past week, the research science community has been all a buzz and twitter (and bark and moo) over news of an Earth-shattering discovery. This breakthrough has scientists worldwide toasting champagne in their beakers and rewriting geology textbooks. But in the real world it’s about as exciting as finding a dollar in the pocket of last year’s winter coat. I’m not sure I understand the priorities of modern science.

Scientist Brian Schubert, a University of Hawaii professor, recently stumbled onto the Earth’s oldest living organisms– 34,000 year old bacteria residing inside salt crystals found in Death Valley. Sort of ironic, isn’t it? The bacteria, which have officially replaced CNN’s Larry King as the oldest surviving….anything, became trapped inside the salt crystals after refusing to purchase their items and exit. The security guards had no choice but to lock up and call it a night.

No, seriously, salt crystals contain tiny, hollow chambers, known to be favorite hangouts for prehistoric germs. The only problem is that the crystals tend to grow rapidly, sealing up whatever’s inside them…permanently, or until a junior scientist with a little too much free time decides to play I Spy- Microscope Edition. And now, 340 centuries later, Dr. Schubert’s discovery is receiving more media coverage than Lindsay Lohan’s latest rehab visit. Well, okay, probably not, but its big news.

And I’m still trying to discover where I left my car keys. Maybe I should check the ancient salt crystals in my cat’s litter box. Any time I’m missing anything from now on, I’m going to check the salt crystals first. Perhaps it’s a new lead in the Jimmy Hoffa case.

What I don’t understand is that if modern science has the technology to determine the age of Paleolithic bacteria, and the funding to continue paying for long cancelled NASA programs (according to CNBC), then why can’t they invent a few basic items that we as humans would appreciate…..even more so than finding germs that hung out with Dick Clark in his younger days.

If any scientists are reading this, here’s a short list of things that someone in your department needs to get to work on.

  • Bed pillows that actually do stay cool on both sides. I bought a few that made great claims of repelling body heat. But those claims were just hot air.
  • Hair color that works at the root. The more I color my gray hairs, the faster they grow….just to spite me. Can’t someone create hair color that starts where the gray does? If scientists can develop an outer space litter collecting robot, then surely this isn’t too much to ask.
  • Cars that run on mud, rotten vegetables, human waste or ancient bacteria. Gas is $3.50 a gallon! Need I say more?
  • Downloadable brain software. Want an Irish accent? The perfect comeback to your coworker’s insult? To unstick that “Cotton Eyed Joe” song from playing over and over in your head? Just download the right application. Cell phones can do it. Surely our brains aren’t far from having wireless Internet.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Leave a comment. I’d love to hear your ideas too.

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