From salting and drying to pickling and irradiating, humans have devised many ingenious ways of preserving their food from spoilage by microbes. The question of what microbes gain from making food go off in the first place has attracted less attention, but research presented at this years British Ecological Society Annual Meeting will shed new light on the problem.
Speaking at the meeting, taking place at Lancaster University on 7-9 September 2004, Dr Dave Wilkinson of Liverpool John Moores University and Dr Thomas Sherratt of Carleton University in Canada will cast doubt over Professor Dan Janzens seductive 1977 theory that microbes make food go off in order to make it objectionable or unusable by the larger animals they are competing with for food.
Janzen illustrated his theory thus: imagine a child left alone for a short time in the kitchen with two strawberries, one fresh and one mouldy. If the youngster pops the fresh one into its mouth, then the microbe has won.
Becky Allen | alfa
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