THE BLOG

If a Microbe Can Do It...: Finding Happiness Even Amid Toxicity

12/12/2010 10:00 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Bacteria are not the first things I usually turn to for inspiration. But recently, I became a bacteria believer.

Last week, scientists announced that they had trained a microbe of bacteria to eat and grow on a diet of arsenic. Why is this significant? Life forms, at least as we thought before, are composed of six elements: phosphorous, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen and sulfur. Recently, however, scientists took a small microbe and put it in a lab mixture where arsenic was substituted for one of the core elements, phosphorous. Think about that. They didn't just substitute a different element, they substituted poison.

Dr. Felisa Wolfe-Simon, the scientist leading the experiment said, "every day I would hold my breath when I went into the lab, expecting to hear that the microbes had died." But they didn't. In fact, they did something extraordinary. In order to survive, they began to swap out atoms of phosphorus for atoms of arsenic. In essence, when the microbe couldn't find what it needed to live, rather than die, it changed itself.

With this one scientific discovery, we now know that life can generate in places we didn't think possible. In fact, it can survive and even grow in poisonous environments.

This hits a little close to home when you realize that these microbes of bacteria are from the same tree of life as human beings. Which brings me to the question: If a microbe can do it ... why can't we?

In reading this story, I am reminded of how often humans tend to use the excuse of "not getting what we need."

"I didn't get approval from my parents."
"I don't get enough love from my spouse."
"I didn't get enough respect from my boss."
"I don't get enough support from my friends."

And we love to use these experiences as excuses; reasons why we can't succeed, reasons why we can't move forward.

We all deserve to be loved and affirmed. But the truth is, human beings are far from perfect. We spend our lives trying desperately to get these "missing elements" from sources that aren't always capable of giving them.

Remember the microbe? When it couldn't find what it needed to live, rather than die, it changed itself.

Every human being was born with this same life force: an ability to adapt, the stamina to persevere. It's in every cell in our body.

What is it in your life that you feel you aren't getting?

What is it that the world isn't giving you?

As a newly converted bacteria believer, I say stop looking for life outside yourself. We can't change the world or the people in it. However, we can clearly change ourselves. Rather than look for life outside yourself, give it to yourself. If a microbe can do it ... surely we can, too.