Origin of Our Microbiome

Origin of Our Microbiome during pregnancy

The microbiome consists of trillions of beneficial bacteria that support our bodies in many ways. Some bacteria play an essential role in digestion and in separating the waste and processing it so that it can be excreted. Other bacteria play a role in our reproductive system. When I was a student at Notre Dame, there was a germ-free laboratory on campus where researchers raised animals with no bacteria. One of the complications of doing that was that even rabbits could not conceive if they were germ-free. For years, scientists have debated the question of the origin of our microbiome.

One interesting discovery that has come from prenatal research is that pre-born babies have their own microbiome separate from their mothers. For the past century, medical experts believed that babies acquired their microbiome at or shortly after birth. Research like that done at Notre Dame was thought to support the” sterile womb paradigm” hypothesis. Recent research has suggested that the origin of our microbiome may be from small amounts of bacteria built into the placenta. Discover magazine (June 2020, page 16) reviews the debate over when babies get their microbiome. Part of the problem is that it is very easy for contamination to get into the research specimens creating confusion over whether the bacteria were natural or if they came from contamination.

Our interest in this subject is not so much about the origin of our microbiome as to look at the implications of the data. Everyone agrees that the baby does not have its mother’s microbiome. Some microbes like E. coli are so common that they are found in all microbiomes. Beyond those, there is a unique makeup to each person’s microbiome, including newborns and pre-born babies.

Maintaining that a baby is an extension of the mother and therefore has no rights is to ignore the evidence. Morning sickness is caused by the mother’s immune system not recognizing a foreign object, the baby, and going into defensive mode. The baby growing inside the mother is a unique person with its own genetic makeup, awareness, and microbiome.

The abortion issue ignores the evidence and attempts to create a new vocabulary to make it seem less brutal, but taking a baby out of the womb and killing it is still infanticide. As tough as this issue is, we need to not shield the vile nature of this process by ignoring the evidence. Instead, we should look for solutions that recognize the value of life and the worth of every human being.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Why Do We Have Mosquitoes?

Why Do We Have Mosquitoes?Every summer and early fall, the newspapers start talking about how horrible mosquitoes are. Then I have to deal with questions of why mosquitoes exist. If there is a kind and loving God, why do we have to worry about the diseases that mosquitoes carry? I have heard some people give rather foolish answers to this question, and I don’t wish to over-simplify in discussing it. But why do we have mosquitoes?

Many years ago, one of my professors at Notre Dame was Dr. George B. Craig, whose specialty was mosquitoes. He was “an internationally recognized expert on the biology and control of mosquitoes” according to a publication of the National Academies of Sciences. As one of his students, I learned some fantastic things about mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are pollinating insects. Most species of mosquitoes pollinate plants and don’t “bite” anything.

The word “mosquito” is Spanish for “little fly” and there are some 3500 species of them. The larvae of the mosquito are a significant part of the diet of fish and other water creatures. The mutation which turned some of them into bloodsuckers seems to have come into existence in recent history. It appears they were not created that way, and certainly have not always carried malaria and other diseases. The fact that there were no mosquitoes in Hawaii until the white man came to the islands with water barrels containing mosquito larvae is another important point to consider. The question of “why do we have mosquitoes” won’t always get answered to everyone’s satisfaction, but at least we can raise some points to make people think.

The design of the various food chains on Earth is very complex. This is especially true in freshwater areas with unique problems. In Alaska, for example, the necessary minerals for plants and the food sources for bears come from the salmon runs that bring the nutrients. The soil is sparse and nutrient-poor, and much of the year, the cold prevents normal food chains from functioning. Insects provide a significant means of moving nutrients through the system, so they are the base of the food chain in those freshwater systems. Without mosquito larvae to feed the freshwater creatures, including the salmon, that life would not exist.

Research has not given us enough data to understand how mutations in insects allow them to become disease carriers. There are multiple possible answers to that question, and future discoveries will make it more clear. Those of us who live in the north may not like the mosquitoes that make our outside activities uncomfortable, but we know how to cope with them. Why do we have mosquitoes? As we tie our dry flies to fish for trout and salmon, we see why the beauty of the north is at least partially rooted in things that complicate our lives. Mosquitoes are among those complications.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Ice Core Data and Global Warming

Ice Core Data Sampling
Many years ago I did a master’s degree thesis on what we can learn by studying ice core data. To do this, I looked at a core taken from Mt. Rainier and another taken from Alaska.

Those ice cores were taken in a place where it never gets warm enough for the ice and snow to melt. In the winter it snows, and the snow doesn’t melt but gets buried by the next winter snow. In the summer the snow from the previous winter gets dirty on top. Dust, insects, pollen, and the remains of plants and animals that died on the ice accumulate and are buried by the next winter’s snow. This happens year after year, so each summer leaves a line in the snow. Looking at these lines with a stereoscope I could count how many summers had passed and what lived during that summer.

Since my studies when I was a graduate student at Notre Dame, techniques for getting ice core data have improved. We can now get deeper cores in places like Antarctica and Greenland. Also, we now have tools which can measure the composition and abundance of atmospheric gases dissolved in the ice. We now have drill cores that go down over a mile. In 1984, scientists took a core at Vostok in the Antarctic that was 6,560 feet and contained about 420,000 summers. That means we can analyze the gases in Earth’s atmosphere for every year going back over 400,000 years.

Scientists then compared the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere and the average temperature for each location. They could see that when the carbon dioxide content went up, the average temperature also went up. Global warming is not a new thing, but how much human activity has affected the current warming is still unknown. What other factors might be involved is still pretty much conjecture.

Already we see some changes that the warming is producing with the melting of ice sheets and altered weather patterns. Not all of the changes are bad. Some places that have had a drought for a very long time are getting much-needed moisture. Fortunately, these changes are slow so that we can adapt. We can see the design of Earth to allow life to exist more clearly as the ice core data reveals its history.
–John N. Clayton © 2019

Data from Saturday Evening Post, January/February 2019, page 44.

Natural Elements of the Periodic Table

Natural Elements of the Periodic Table
One of the things high-school chemistry students have to learn is how to use a periodic table of the elements. As we worked with the chart, I almost always had a student ask me how the natural elements of the periodic table came into existence. Our textbook simply said that the elements were produced by “the event that produced the universe.”

Dr. Timothy C. Beers is the chair of astrophysics in the College of Science at the University of Notre Dame. The Notre Dame Magazine for Autumn 2017 contains an interesting article about his efforts to understand the processes that formed the natural elements of the periodic table. Dr. Beers calls it “Galactic Archaeology.”

Beers was the first scientist to identify “carbon-enhanced metal-poor stars.” These stars appear to have formed very early in the creation of the universe, and thus they give a window into the past. When the universe was created, only hydrogen and helium were present. Beers and his fellow researchers are working to understand what is called a rapid neutron-capture process. When neutrons bombard the lighter elements, some of those neutrons latch on and create heavier elements. As we watch that process taking place, we see that producing the elements heavier than hydrogen and helium requires a more complex process than anyone could imagine.

The Bible simply says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens (outer space) and the earth (elements that make up our planet).” God doesn’t tell us how He did it, but Genesis 2:3 tells us that God created (did a miraculous event that humans cannot do) and made (did an event that we can do and understand). The team that Dr. Beers leads is trying to understand how God did it.

Understanding how God created the stuff that makes up our bodies is a part of seeing the handiwork of God. Dr. Beers says, “I think human beings want to know the story,” and he says that his work will surely produce a religious response. The design of the natural elements of the periodic table is amazing. Learning how God formed them is a rich source of data about God’s design and creative wisdom.

In Proverbs 8:22-23 wisdom speaks of the creation, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the Earth was.” Knowing how God did the marvelous creation we see around us includes the very large such as the Grand Canyon and the very small such as quarks. Understanding how He made the elements is one of the most astounding evidences of design we can see in the cosmos.
–John N. Clayton © 2017