Bugs

June 10th, 2008 | shivering sands

The devices at Queen’s University Belfast are described as "small hockey-puck-like antennas," but they sound like bugs to me. They channel wireless data signals across human skin using a physical effect called, I swear, The Creeping Wave. The Creeping Wave Effect would allow several electronic implants to communicate with each other across the surface of your skin — essentially, a bluetoothing of the human body. Or, if you like, bugging yourself — monitoring and updating your own devices over the air. I’m not sure if New Scientist’s term "skin-tenna" will stick. Let’s face it: it’s going to be a creeping bug.

At the same time, however, a team at Rutgers has its own creeping bug problem. They thawed out a bunch of soil-based bacterias, the youngest of which went into the deep-freeze in 1974, and tried some antibiotics on them. Antibiotic resistance is an increasing problem in the medical sector, and some elements of that resistance may be found in soil, hence the experiments. No-one was happy to see these vintage soil-bugs fend off a dose of Cipro that would literally have killed a sumo wrestler.

The thing is, Cipro doesn’t occur in nature. And all of the antibiotics used in the test were developed some considerable time after the soil bacteria samples were stuffed in the icebox. Bacteria that have not been exposed to an antibiotic should not have been able to evolve resistance to it, right? I mean, Cipro used to work just fine. And these bugs had never seen Cipro, because it came after they’d been frozen and because it was generated in a lab. Speculative explanations seem to begin with the suggestion that "natural variation or prior exposure to undiscovered Cipro-like molecules could explain the bacteria’s retroactive resistance." But a different idea occurred to me.

What if bacteria update over the air in a creeping wave across the surface of the earth?


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