Probiotics, Antibiotics and Politics
Elias Hakalehto, PhD, Adj. Prof.
CEO, Finnoflag Oy
Vice President, International Society of Environmental Indicators
Published on 6th of April, 2021
For our societies to recover from the pandemic era, a flow of microbiological understanding is warranted. In fact, it is high time to see the importance of micro-organisms in about every phenomenon around us. These little creatures maintain soil fertility, plant production, planktonic ecosystems in the oceans, climatological balances, food production and security, biorefinery and other industrial processes, nutrient absorption in the gut, the digestive balance, the microbiome, our mental agility, and health in general.
We cannot cope with the challenges in our contemporary world without cooperating with microbes. They constitute the third major group of living organisms, besides plants and animals. Their impacts on our human societies have been undeniable in all sectors. As omnipresent organisms, their contribution is not limited by any space or time factors. We need to comprehend their ways of action in real-time if we wish to manage our time's ecological and health issues.
In the Queen's University of Belfast, Dr John E. Hallsworth has intensively studied the microcosm from his unique standpoint. Actually, it is the kosmotrophicity or chaotrophicity of substances that often determine their influence on micro-organisms. As a microbiologist, the undersigned can well understand this issue where outside effectors compromise the form's persistence in our molecules. Correspondingly, the impacts of various environmental pollution factors can be different from their acute toxicity. Any unnecessary chemical load may cause long-term effects, and damage to the cells may be caused by long term exposures. For example, our lungs are an organ into which foreign substances tend to accumulate. Similarly, some compounds may pass the blood-brain barrier, and they may form a prolonged effect that deteriorates health. In the intestines, the balance depends on the incoming flow of food and the joint capacity of the body system and microbiome to digest it. Accordingly, any harm to this balance will inevitably affect our system as a whole and on its perseverance and resistance against epidemics.
Besides the chaotrophicity or kosmotrophicity, it is the pH, redox-potential, osmotic pressure, air pressure, gas flow, and numerous other parameters that affect the biological organisms. Provided that we can understand the interplay of microbial strains and their surroundings, we are many steps closer to protecting ourselves against pathogens, implementing better health on individuals, keeping food security, and improved nutrition. In the global environment of many local but interdependent ecosystems, we could understand and support their functions to support the dynamic balance in the microbial communities. This relates to the betterment of balance also between the microbes and plants, and animals. As a reward, we would get healthier ecosystems and population as well as happier societies.
Consequently, we could see the natural world through the beautifully painted but ecologically conscious lenses as Sir Richard Attenborough and many other pioneering alarmists and conservationists such as Aldous Huxley, Joy Adamson, Bernhard Grzimek, Eugen Schuhmacher or John Walsh of World Animal Protection. We know from the past that the efforts of many distinguished scientists, physicians, and ordinary citizens with compassion in their positions in life have greatly widened our comprehension and views about life and our possibilities to live peacefully with Nature. This unavoidably means living in close contact and molecular communication with the microbes. It all starts from the digestive microbial ecosystem, the closest ecosystem for us, which binds us with our environment through food absorption and metabolic waste abolishment. The surplus and side streams on the society level also belong to our discarded biomass and other materials which could and should be recycled. The core microbial ecosystem should be studied piece by piece in this light with all the scientific novelties and technologies available. The baseline was attempted to be characterized in the book edited and to a big part authored by the undersigned, "Alimentary Microbiome - a PMEU approach" in 2012 by Nova Science Publishers of New York.
A month ago, we once again encouraged broad discussion about recycling the past and present wastes and future. In Tampere, Finnoflag Oy conducted piloting of the biorefinery unit in the project "Zero waste from zero fibre" funded by the Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in the blue biotechnology program 1n 2018-19. The project's motivation is the removal of 1.5 M tons of past forest industry waste from the lake bottom, where it had sedimented for about 100 years. We managed with the consortium of many universities and companies to demonstrate that this side stream could be converted economically feasibly into valuable chemicals, energy gases such as methane and hydrogen, as well as high-quality organic fertilizers. Now the full-scale implementation of the projected results should be decided by the political decision-makers.
This brings us back to the headline. What is the link between all of us, also the politicians, with our gut microflora? In fact, in the English language, we use the expression of "having guts" (to dare to do something). - A couple of years ago, the undersigned attended an excellent lecture by Professor John Cryan of the University College Cork of Ireland about the "Brain-Gut-Microbiota Axis". In the lecture's aftermath, we discussed the potentials to balance the human mind with appropriate probiotic bacteria. Thus it could be at least in theory possible to ease anxiety, depression, fatigue and aggression by using beneficial microbial strains. Maybe, we should produce such bacteria for those who make the difficult decisions to get ever-bettering management and strategic planning pursued with upgraded courage.
The productive attitude of seeing the invisible could provide us and our societies tools for combatting difficult disease or securing our children's growth and development, fruitful lives for the elderly. All that could be achievable as we have the potential of cooperating with the microbiomes at our hands. - At the beginning of the year 1986, the undersigned was invited by Professor Helge Gyllenberg, the then head of the Scientific Central Committee of the Academy of Finland, to spearhead the joint project between the University of Helsinki and Valio Dairies Corporation. The latter is the largest milk refining company in Finland, founded in 1905 based on cooperatives. This format was a common incentive in Finland. The cooperatives are economic units producing goods for their members and non-members with affordable prices by not aiming for high profits. Thus supporting society and those whose work carries all of us on their shoulders. Or not casting heavy burdens on those who spend their time in SME enterprises striving for novel products or innovations for the benefit of all. It is the sense of common responsibility that has saved the nations during hard times such as pandemics.
My task in the old Valio laboratory in Kalevankatu, Helsinki, was to plan the strategy for Valio to enter the starting probiotics market. In the final report, I recommended Valio purchase the most scientifically researched probiotic strain and base the marketing on this research. As a result, Valio purchased the rights for the Lactobacillus rhamnosus strain ATCC 53103 or the LGG strain (isolated by Sherwood Goldin and Barry Gorbach in the USA). It was licensed by Valio in 1987 and productized as a product family of Gefilus® in 1990. It later was licenced to many countries getting different other trade names, such as Culturelle® in the US.
In today´s world, there is a plentiful of research on the microbial probiotic effects. However, usually, it isn't straightforward to get exact proof of the probiotic effects in health maintenance. To the author's knowledge, the PMEU method in the ESPEN (European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism) in Leipzig by Hakalehto and Jaakkola first presented a simulation of the effect of various probiotics on Escherichia coli and Klebsiella bacteria and other opportunistic pathogens of the gut microflora. For the first time (to my knowledge), a method was documented to quantify the attenuating probiotic or prebiotic effect within the microbiome.
Growing numbers of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains have caused great concern for many years. Now they really should be confined better in the aftermath of the pandemics, which has downgraded the immunological strength and epithelial defences of many, thus enabling the emerging bacterial epidemics to pop up. - Extended-spectrum beta-lactamase-producing E. coli (ESBL) was found to be present in 11% of human faecal samples in all Britain in 2013-2014 and 17% of the corresponding specimens in London, according to a report published in Lancet Infectious Diseases online in 2019 by National Infection Services, other British authorities and some universities in England, Scotland and Wales. In another survey just before the SARS-CoV-2 pandemics, carbapenemase-producing Enterobacterales (CPE) in England between May 2015 and March 2019, as many as 30.3% of the E. coli isolates and 39.1% of the Klebsiella sp. isolates, were detected as CPE positive. This work was published in "Infection Prevention in Practise" n:o 2 (2020).
The constant increase in the number of these and other antibiotic-resistant bacteria should clearly point out the necessity and urgency to protect the corona-strained population against the risks of these resistant bacterial variants. During the "Spanish flu" a century ago, about 70% of the deaths connected with the virus pandemics were associated with a bacterial infection. We cannot afford poor health politics now to allow the spread of these modern-day threats. Also, the food production and distribution chains need to take responsibility still more. The development works and efforts to find novel antibiotics and probiotic strains have to be accelerated, together with improved hygiene levels during hospital care, surgery, out-patient treatments and antibiotic therapies. Environmental pollution has to be mitigated as a source of infections or allergies by novel, innovative techniques. Finally, we need to understand the microbiome as our internal ecosystem, the Bacteriological Intestinal Balance in it, and our links by the microflora with the environment for better health and happiness.