The Green Planet Monitor

Fine tree roots beneath Amsterdam street

Fine tree roots beneath Amsterdam street

Voices & Stories From a Warm, Wet Planet

 

Drug-Resistant Bugs & Underground Networks

It’s a staggering statistic.

This past May, US officials announced that Covid has killed a million Americans. The number is likely higher. Globally, over six million have died since the pandemic began in January 2020.

Meanwhile, a potentially deadlier enemy is sweeping the planet — bacterial pathogens, that are drug resistant. According to a recent report in the medical journal The Lancet, in 2019, drug-resistant bugs were linked to five million deaths worldwide. One and a quarter million deaths were directly attributable to them.

According to a UK government study, by 2050, anti-microbial resistance (AMR) could kill ten million annually.

As with Covid, drug-resistant bacteria aren’t equal opportunity killers. Marginalized folks are the hardest hit.

The GPM spoke with two experts in the field. Shira Doron is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Tufts University, in Boston, and the Director of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at Tufts Medical Center. In 2021, she co-authored a letter to the journal Nature Medicine, entitled “Antibiotic resistance: a call to action to prevent the next epidemic of inequality.” Shira Doron joins us from Boston.

Tomislav Meštrović is an associate professor at University North in Croatia, and a scholar at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. He’s worked closely with the authors of that Lancet study on the global burden of drug-resistant infection. Tomislav joins us from Seattle, Washington.

Vincent Merckx and student Cas Verbeek, prospecting for mycorrhizal fungi in Amsterdam

Vincent Merckx and student Cas Verbeek, prospecting for mycorrhizal fungi in Amsterdam

It’s a living web beneath our feet – a tangled network of microscopic tubes weaving through the soil, pulsating with nutrients, tying the roots of trees and other plants into vast networks. Mycorrhizal fungi they’re called. Most plants rely on them entirely.

But, mycorrhizal fungi do more than just feed plants. They cycle carbon from atmosphere to soil, regulating Earth’s climate – and they face a host of threats. Soil scientists have come together to protect fungal networks, and are calling on citizens to help out.

Special thanks to Bart Braun and the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, in Leiden, the Netherlands, for the audio track of Toby Kiers’ presentation. Thanks, as well, to Loreto Oyarte Galvez and AMOLF + VU, Amsterdam, Netherlands, for this remarkable video of complex flows inside the hyphae of an arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi — in real time.