6 Ways Bacteria Will Prevent the Apocalypse

#3. Fixing Obesity


We at Cracked certainly know that the pie chart on causes of obesity is as complex as it is delicious. We know there are all sorts of contributing factors, like genes and brain stuff and how close the nearest doughnut shop is to your house. We also know that every overweight person can now add bad gut bacteria to the list of excuses for why they can never fix their fat selves.

Y tambe
Those four daily cans of Pringles still deserve top billing though.

After all, your intestines aren't just a food-to-shit conversion chamber turning that Taco Bell fourth meal into ... well Taco Bell is a bad example. Your intestines also play host to about 500 different species of bacteria, and that's a good thing because bacteria break down and absorb the food our bodies can't digest alone. The last thing anyone wants in their belly tube is all the food you ever ate ever, right?

Except maybe Giardia, "the farting death."

Recently, scientists have found that when we eat a high-fat, sugar rich diet, we not only pack in the calories, we also encourage the growth of bacteria called Firmicutes in our intestines, which happen to love Bugles and Twix bars. They love fatty foods so much that they devour it, breaking the compound down until it is sure to be absorbed by the body, like some kind of chubby lovin' specialty bacteria with its own section of Craigslist and everything.

Likes: Marijuana, Super Sized anything and County Fairs.

In a study that changed the diet of lab mice from low-fat, plant based meals to fatty foods, the mice picked up a new set of bad bacteria overnight and started packing on the pounds. They even stayed fat after switching back to low-fat foods. So that's the bad news. Bad bacteria makes you fat. Here's the good news: Good bacteria makes you skinny! Surprise!

If you just keep exposing yourself to bacteria, you're bound to hit the right one eventually.

What? How?

Daily intake of a unique lactic acid bacteria was shown to keep the fat-loving bacteria away, which is great news for people who despise the idea of working out. Scientists tested the effectiveness of Lactobacillus plantarum HEAL19 by feeding it to baby rats every day, even before they were born. Then those rats were fed some high fat, McDonaldsish diet and despite enjoying fatty foods, the rats with the lactic acid bacteria living inside their gut stayed leaner.

So, the theory goes that by intentionally ingesting something that looks like this ...


... regularly and from an early age, you can allow this stuff to colonize inside of you like tiny but stern fat camp councilors that constantly keep obesity in check.

#2. Cleaning up Oil Spills

International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology

Thanks to BP, you might have already known that there's a bacteria that eats oil and poops dolphins. It's possible we misread the press release, but we know for certain it can help clean up disastrous spills. What you probably didn't know was that the bacteria is called (ugh ... seriously science?) Alcanivorax borkumensis.

Charles O'Rear / Corbis
His posture proves the existence of bacterial shame.

Ridiculous names aside, the bacteria is pretty rare in unpolluted waters, but once an oil spill occurs, it shows up like a superhero. We'd equate it to Aquaman, but technically the bacteria is just a little bit better at its job. The microbes start multiplying quickly in the event of a spill, fattening themselves on oil ... but only to a certain point. The BP oil spill overwhelmed the existing oil-eating bacteria and they weren't nearly as helpful as they were for the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989. But some people think they have the answer to that problem.

Sadly, it isn't "electric golf carts for everybody."

What? How?

With fertilizer. Specifically, nitrogen and phosphorous. The same stuff that they're putting on the (nonorganic) crops that are feeding the world could also fertilize the bacteria that loves oil. Adding fertilizer to the water increases the size and number of the bacteria so there are more out there to cut through all that oil.

Also, some of these bacteria poop biodegradable plastic.

Still, the process hasn't exactly been tested in deep waters yet, and one of the main consequences could be an overwhelming amount of algae (which also loves fertilizer). That kind of thick marine vegetation could overpower more fragile species. Still, it's been proven to work well near shores and can still do a whole lot of good.

If only we could design oil-eating wildlife.

#1. Turning Greenhouse Gases into Bricks


We don't need to explain why CO2 is a problem for the environment right now -- it's why the nations of the world are scrambling to reduce emissions before we fry ourselves into a Venusian nightmare.

Your colleagues will still want to turn up the thermostat.

A lot of potential CO2/global warming fixes are on the table, but sometimes just overcoming your enemy isn't enough. Sometimes you want to destroy them and use pieces of them in your buildings and roads just to remind yourself how superior you are.

Well it turns out we can do just that with carbon dioxide.

Finally, we can pollute with a clear conscience.

What? How?

There are two ways that nature deals with CO2: either through photosynthesis in plants which turns out oxygen, or through bacteria which convert CO2 into solid calcium bicarbonate. That kind of "air into stone" transformation sounds like alchemy, but about 40 percent of the chalk cliffs in the world are created by carbon dioxide absorbing microbes. Not only are oxygen and calcium bicarbonate less threatening for humanity and for the world, they are also completely useful to us.

We still say it's probably magic.

A group of Indian scientists have discovered bacteria capable of creating building materials out of the carbon dioxide in the air, essentially creating a chemical reaction that turns a gas into a separate, solid compound. A rock-solid compound.

You can use it to build walls or cut cocaine. It's a miracle compound!

We can use calcium bicarbonate in building materials, agricultural lime, the purification of iron and even antacid tablets. The group of scientists speculates that modern factories could include bacteria chambers to convert the CO2 before it leaves the building. This would allow a factory to produce massive stores of calcium bicarbonate while giving off only low levels of dangerous emissions, thus killing two birds with one chalky stone.

You can read more from Kristi here or on Twitter.

Be sure to check out 5 Horrible Diseases That Changed The World (For the Better). Or learn about 6 Terrifying Diseases That Science Can't Explain.

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