Saturday, 11 June 2016


Perhaps we could take a leaf, in rather desperate times, from the pages of the industrious leafcutter ants (Acromyrmex) of the Americas to hopefully rehabilitate some of our notions about health and hygiene. These colonies have been in the business of agriculture, to include biocide and population health for æons, and have yet to find themselves in a pinch whereas humans just harnessed antibiotics and pesticides a few generations hence, and through abuse are seriously at risk of returning to pestilential times, plagued by crop-failures and untreatable infections to the exclusion of modern medical procedures.
Not that we weren’t warned from the onset, but adding an antibacterial sheen to everything and using it as a panacea of first resort has made the strongest thrive and is making the incurable more and more dominant. Returning to our friends, the leafcutter ants—whom drink the sap of the leaves for energy but actually take back the leaves to their nests to grow a specific fungus that’s the chief food staple, scientists are finding that having evolved symbiotically with the resources and threats if their environment, the ants are able to cultivate only what they’ve intended and keep weeds and other pests at bay (despite the inviting hot-house of a nursery they build for their favoured fungi). The blight of invaders is avoided, researchers believe, by a cocktail of novel antibiotics administered, which the ants gather (naturally occurring in the soil) and possibly produce through their own chemistry, confounding the ability to acquire resistance. Hopefully, we can learn something from these ancient farmers, and if we are granted a reprieve from returning to the medical dark age, hopefully we will not repeat the same mistakes.