Co-operation and stress

It seems that stress is becoming a more reliable predictor of human health in the US. Suicide is on the rise, and in some places and for some groups of people, life expectancy is actually decreasing despite our many medical advances, and an apparently booming economy. While we know that the economy broadly should not explain human health, one issue that those in the medical field are noticing is that stress itself is typically a driver of many other mental and physical ailments.

So, as always, I would suggest that cooperation is likely a good solution to some of these stress-related problems.

In plant-microbial interactions, we know that stress (though not exceedingly straightforward a measure) can be influenced by both abiotic and biotic interactions, and that different organisms have a spectrum of responses to particular abiotic or biotic interactions. When things are going well for a plant (i.e. they have enough water and nutrients and sunlight, etc.) they don’t need all that much help, including from their microbial life-partners. Alternatively, when times are tough it is generally best to have microbial partners that will provide the plant with certain necessary benefits and aim to alleviate a particular stressor. These benefits range from providing nutrients, preventing disease, or even warning other plants of the wave of shit coming their way.

So how does this system come about? Communication. The plant sends out its stress signals and the microbes respond. Keep in mind that some things prey on stress signals, and not all that respond are ‘good.’ But to stay positive (and on topic), I’ll just focus on those that help when needed most here.

Humans are social animals. While some things out there are scary, and we’ve been generally sold the fear mantra for a few too many centuries, it is important to remember that we are surrounded by other humans that are not always out to get you, and in many cases are available to provide support. We need to recognize that the stressors in people’s lives are different than our own, that they are almost always out of their control, and they affect each individual differently. I intend to change the way that I support those around me, to alleviate and not create stress, and aim to become more aware of problems that those I know and love have to deal with. Let’s all try to be ‘good’ microbes and lend a helping hand when others need it most.


‘I get by with a little help from my friends…’

‘Every particular in nature…is related to the whole’

E pluribus unum


Published by Dan Revillini

Ph.D. candidate Soil Ecology Lab Department of Biological Sciences Northern Arizona University

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