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Blooming in the air - the natives and the cosmopolitans

LED Stories

Blooming in the air - the natives and the cosmopolitans

Elias Hakalehto, PhD, Adj. Prof.

Microbiologist, Biotechnologist

CEO, Finnoflag Oy

An Alumnus of the University College London, U.K. (Biochemical Engineering)

Vice President, International Society of Environmental Indicators

Lifetime Fellow Member, International Society of Development and Sustainability (Japan)

(Published on the 2nd of December 2022)

Humans get our real, functional, cultural and spiritual inspiration from Nature. To explain this and exemplify it, we would like to take up a pattern of natural metabolic partnerships or interactions of various microbial strains and species in the bioprocess ecosystem. During the biorefinery trials at my company Finnoflag Oy's experimentation, we observed the core role of microbial balance in that context. In other words, instead of just establishing antiseptic or aseptic conditions, we have to understand the ecology on the micro-scale. Then the adjustments we make for maintaining or regaining the balance will have consequences reaching out of the microcosmos.

Technically, we tend to accept (or do not overly restrict) the local microbial populations in the organic raw materials but learn to control the circumstances so that neither intruding strains nor any portion of the natural population will take over unless it is favourable for the production process at any time point.

This same idea of microbiological balance occurs in soil, processes, or the digestive system. In the latter one, we call it Bacteriological Intestinal Balance (BIB). See Hakalehto, E. 2012 (ed.) Alimentary Microbiome - A PMEU Approach, Nova Science Publishers Inc. N.Y., U.S.A.

The atmospheric microbes are subjected to the disinfecting effects of ultraviolet light. However, the UV is less effective on fungal spores. Therefore, we have sampled the air at many altitudes above the ground. Actually, at the height of one kilometre, a sampler under the wings of a jet plane detected corresponding numbers or concentrations of moulds corresponding to the spore density at the height of one meter. This result was presented, e.g. during my lecture at the Second International Symposium of Fungal Stress (ISFUS) in Goiania, Brazil (Alder-Rangel et al. 2017 Fungal Biology vol. 122).

In the soil, the moulds are responsible for recycling the nutrients for their part. They are competent in degrading organic macromolecules such as starch, cellulose, proteins, etc. They could transport in their mycelium various nutrients into novel niches along their tubelike structures, whereas bacteria need to "propagate their way" for more extensive reach. Thus the moulds are not as dependent on the local conditions of the conquerable niches as many other microbes. They can also more effectively change circumstances in the new microscopic or larger areas by transporting means for that in their tubes from remote strongholds. Consequently, they act as pioneers in the microbial community. The fungal cytoplasm flows in the tubelike mycelial structures of the hyphae without interception by cell walls. And moulds can thus extend their presence into otherwise unfavourable conditions. - Moreover, they can also travel long distances in the air because of the high tolerance of their spores to UV light and other stresses. For example, African sandstorms have been shown to transport livable mould spores over the Atlantic to the Americas.

In various soils, particularly in Springtime, the conidiophores get activated. Sometimes light or UV provoke them. Correspondingly, in bioprocess engineering, we often use the potential of moulds and their enzymes. According to the Finnoflag biotechnology concept, nurturing balance and correct conditions could favour the anticipated production (see above) and often replace the expensive aseptic approach.

Such "ecosystem fermentation" principles have been experimented with during six years of pilot studies by Finnoflag Oy in Tampere Hiedanranta (Lielahti) Pulp&Paper side streams for manufacturing precious chemicals such as lactate or mannitol or energy gases and soil improvement, out of past cellulosic side stream. This is an example of ecosystem engineering, as the fibrous biowaste accumulated during a century is converted into valuable goods. Some results were presented at the European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly (Vienna) in 2022 (Hakalehto, E. et al. Record level productivity of lactate from a century-old cellulosic deposit on the lake bottom in Tampere, Finland).

When the wind blows over the mountains, it rises with the evaporated water, which condensates as it cools up. Then the raindrops or snowflakes of this purified waterfall will drop down. On the way, they also take along the pollens, seeds, spores and other particles of life. This is crucial for the biosphere as any particles less than 10 micrometres in diameter do not land because of gravitation. These cycles of living particles are global, and the moulds send their cosmopolitan spores with winds all over to find novel areas where they also make the microbial ecosystems richer and more capable of maintaining the cycles of nutrition on Earth. This internationalism makes the soils more fertile and gives the gifts of life to new locations. However, the local microflora is prone to maintain its specific nature according to the local climate, nutritive options and other circumstances.

In the presumed speech of Suquamish chief Sealth in the year 1854, he puts this eloquently: "What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of earth."

Human organisational wisdom has deteriorated. Although societies are increasingly complex, this no longer leads to genuine individual specialisation or increased common knowledge. This lack of hidden or indigenous wisdom has occurred regardless or partially due to the massive increase in machine-supported accumulation of information. Resulting from that, we are increasingly acting as similar parts of the system. Sophistication is given up for computers, which help replace physical work or routines, but in human communities, it limits individual intuition, inventiveness and freedom. Often this happens without us realising the trend, as the vast options of IT seem to increase human capabilities. However, they grow as a part of the paradigm (like the computer works within its programmed limits).

Suppose these functions are parallel compared with the supposed microbial world or microcosmos. That is always better off with its more versatility and latent potential. Therefore, globetrotting moulds are our ecological insurance in this age, provided that they are not of pythopathological strains. - As a matter of fact, in agriculture, improved yields or productivity has been achieved by mixed cropping. This purportedly favoured versatility, in its limited yet controllable form, is not causing anarchy. On the contrary, this view could support the combination of economic feasibility with environmental sustainability. Furthermore, as a result, a dynamic balance with Nature could be attained simultaneously with increased food and other production.

In the appearance of many plants, the flowers are the ultimate form of built-in and out-flashing beauty. The same fairness is expressed in their purpose, which is related to the distribution and multiplication on the one hand and perseverance and population resilience on the other. As the moulds spread their sexual and asexual spores for the species' preservation and for gaining a foothold in new areas and niches, flowering plants use aerial distribution first to disseminate their pollens correspondingly. They then use the matured seeds in their fruits for also unfurling the species. Moreover, their beauty has inspired countless sagas, stories, poems and legends, and pieces of art or music. Therefore, they have, in many ways, a near-flamboyant but important messenger role in our culture. As farming is the mainstay of food production and rural economy, so is the gardening and cherishing of flowers, a penetrating critical cultural activity in societies, not only for decoration, landscaping, or earthworks. The fragile creatures of flowers are piercing our cultures like flying buttresses of arts and social life.

For example, take a rose. Their pedals embellish our could gardens and homes, giving endless ideas, patterns and ideals for our esthetic senses and enchanting dimensions for any communication between us. They make perfect presents and gifts which can transmit wordless information about emotions, care, plans or undertakings between people. Moreover, they reflect the structures and principles of Nature most eloquently.

Lilies, roses, carnations, daffodils, anemones, magnolias, orchids, cherries, lilies, lotuses, dandelions, sunflowers, flamboyants, bougainvillaeas, jacarandas, morning glories, forget-me-not and many others are beauties with a purpose. They emit colours of light reflecting and radiating from their blossoming inflorescences. Their gorgeous colours and shapes are blazing the trail for pollinating insects. And the compensation for the bees, wasps, bumblebees and many others is the nourishing nectar. Many of them store it in their hives for the growing generations. When the plants collect solar energy in chemical form, this resource is converted into animal food. The simple sugar or monosaccharide, glucose, is the central starting chemical compound of both catabolism (energy metabolism) and anabolism (biosynthesis). Glucose is thus directly or indirectly the primary energy source for living things, such as tigers and elephants, as well as moulds and bacteria. The eubacterial metabolism is roughly 85% used for maintenance and upkeeping of the primary survival activities. The rest of the resources are obtained for building structures, cellular organs and functions, and multiplication. Similarly, biosynthesis in most other creatures takes only a minor portion of the metabolic assets.

Among microbial science, overflow metabolism means the biochemical balancing activity of the cell or organism to fastly burn out excessive energy, which could otherwise damage them or the balance of populations. As with many microbes, also plants can do the same. For instance, maple trees, birches and many other trees excrete sap in the spring to balance metabolic functions. Here, the beauty of Nature is again undeniable.

As the chief Seatl stated: "We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the Earth, and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters..." And he continued: "The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. So you must give the rivers the kindness you would give any brother."

And further in his speech to the U.S. president in 1854 by the Suquamish chief: "This we know: the Earth does not belong to man, man belongs to Earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself."

And the flowers of the so-called higher plants are not the only ones blossoming on or around this Earth. As they make seeds as projectiles for initiating new plant individuals, also many microbes form "flower-beds". Algae bloom on the surfaces of oceans. Moulds liberate their spores or conidiophores, which fill in the air, and distribute their existence all over. These kinds of blossoming are less accomplished or well-known than those of flowering plants. But yet not a hair's breadth less critical for the ecosystem. Or less ambrosial for us.

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