The Microbes are In Control

“Let me make sure I understand you clearly Professor Jones, you believe your microflora told you to kill Dr. Doyle?” The prosecutor leaned in close as he spoke, then turned toward the jury and raised a skeptical eyebrow. The gesture was intended to convey a message of incredulity to the nine jurors who listened in disbelief. “Yes. Not told me but made me”, replied the distinguished looking gentlemen seated on the witness stand. He wore a simple black suit and had a shock of grey hair that sprouted wildly from his round wrinkled forehead. Many had commented that he looked a bit like Albert Einstein in his later years. In truth the comparison flattered him though his interest in physics had only been at the level of laymen. Microbiology was his passion and had been for the past 30 years. The prosecutor continued. “So the bacteria in your body forced you to commit cold-blooded murder?” Dr. Jones replied quickly, speaking in a soft southern drawl, clearly an erudite, and with the authority of a man used to having his opinions respected. “It may not have been just the bacteria. The viruses and bacteriophage may have also been involved but I do think yes, it was primarily the bacteria in control.” “Sorry professor can you please clarify for the jury, what exactly are bacteriophage?” The professor responded with some measure of arrogance in his voice, “to put it simply for you and the jury they are viruses that infect bacteria instead of higher life forms like plants or animals or humans.” “Thank you professor. Can you please explain to the jury how exactly these evil germs were able to do this.” “I am not entirely certain” Dr. Jones replied quickly, the irritation plainly evident in his voice. “I would ask that you please kindly refrain from using the terminology, germs, I and my microbes find it highly insulting. I greatly prefer microbe or microorganism. Animalcule was also once a favored term though it is much out of style in this day and age. That would be acceptable as well.” The professor continued, his volume slowly rising as he gained confidence. This was clearly an issue to which he had given much thought. “You need to understand that the microbes in and on all of our bodies are numerically superior to the total number of cells that make up our bodies. It is estimated they may outnumber us by as much as an order of magnitude. One order of magnitude means they are present at ten times the number of human cells. We are in fact more microbe than man. To me it is not surprising that given this advantage in numbers they might not at some point attempt to take control. “ The prosecutor cut him off before he could continue. “And what was the motive for these animalcules to make you kill Dr. Doyle?” “I believe it was self-preservation. You see my colleague was on the verge of a great discovery, an entirely new class of antibiotics. If he had succeeded it could have revolutionized the control of many diseases and theoretically eliminated the issue of antibiotic resistance forever. Obviously they were concerned for their continued existence.” Professor Jones smiled smugly and became silent. The prosecutor stared for a moment at the witness, unable to speak. He was obviously stunned by the straightforward and almost scholarly tone of the answer. The insane words coming out of the professor’s mouth just did not match with the way those words were delivered. The jury seemed shaken as well. Mouths hung slightly agape and fear was evident in many of the juror’s eyes. The courtroom was deathly silent. The prosecutor slowly gathered himself and pressed on. “I am a bit confused Dr. Jones, why would not Dr. Doyle’s microbes, or his graduate students’ microbes, have acted before yours? They surely were every bit as aware of his research program.” “A question I have considered myself. I don’t have the answer. Perhaps much like people there are different personalities among our microbes. Some are simply not capable of committing an evil act such as murder where others are. Certainly all the data suggests large variations in the makeup of any one individual’s microflora. Given the variety between people, and also the diversity of the microbial population within each it might not be unexpected that they act and react with their host in many different ways. It is no doubt difficult to achieve any sort of consensus on action among the various genera and species on any given person at any one time. That might also explain the rarity if this type of event. It just is almost never possible to reach agreement on anything and therefore nothing of any consequence is done.” The professor looked genuinely pleased with himself as he considered this possibility, than continued on. “I would very much like to study this in some detail when this is over and I get back to university.” The prosecutor looked shocked. “Im afraid you wont be returning to University anytime soon Dr. Jones. You have essentially admitted to murder and given the jury no choice but to convict you. Your so-called explanation is clearly insane. No further questions.” The prosecutor returned to his seat with one last glance at the jury. He could see in their eyes they would convict. The good professor could quite possibly face the electric chair. He looked briefly at the professor as he was escorted from the witness stand. Disturbingly he thought he saw the traces of a smile on his lips. After a brief recess to consider its verdict, the jury returned. The prosecutor projected an air of supreme confidence as the jury seated itself. He followed the progress of the foremen most closely as he returned to his seat. Often, he had found, he could predict the outcome in any given case by close inspection of how the foremen behaved as he returned to the box. A quick moving foremen who sat down before the rest of the jurors meant conviction 95% of the time. When the foremen moved more slowly and allowed the rest of the jury or most of the rest of the jury to sit before he did this often suggested acquittal, though the percentages were less certain. Therefore, he was only slightly concerned when the foreman stood until the entire rest of the jury had taken their seats. He grew a bit more concerned as he closely inspected the faces of each of the jurors. They had taken on a strangely blank look. Their eyes looked almost lifeless. No trace of emotion was visible. “We the jury find the defendant..” The foremen paused for a moment before proceeding. He seemed to be struggling against himself. When he continued it looked as if the words were forced, maybe not even his own, “not guilty.” There was an audible gasp in the courtroom as the shock of the verdict reverberated among those in attendance. Dr. Jones was not surprised in the least. He had been told about this outcome by his friends. They had made a deal with some of their friends. It was the least they could do for what he had done for them.

Written by

Research scientist (Ph.D. micro/mol biology), Thought middle manager, Everyday junglist, Selecta (Ret.), Boulderer, Cat lover, Fish hater

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store