In 2021, after 5 years of expedition on floating labs in Kiribati’s largest protected area the Phoenix Islands, 3,000 meters below the ocean surface, scientists discover a novel microbe. A microbe so foreign to humans that our immune cells can’t register they exist. The bacteria triggered no response from our innate immune system: an immuno-silence! The discovery excited the scientific world as it dispelled the long-held belief of universal immunity, that our cells can recognise any foreign bacteria they interact with.
Across the world in another kind of lab, a market in Wuhan, believed to be the epicentre of Covid, scientists are trying to understand how the virus jumped to people from live animals sold at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale market on two occasions in 2019. How this tiny virus, naked to the human eye, spread through the air we breathe and within two years touched every corner of the globe, wreaking havoc as it passed from breath to breath, until, in many cases, there was no breath left.
What does a novel bacteria and a virus have to teach us humans about our notions of the other: foreigner, of the alien, notions of universal connectedness and kinship? Join me as we take a deep dive into the world of viruses and bacteria to see what lessons they hold in store for humanity.