Of Bacteria & Fungi and Relationships

Recently I happened to meet an old friend of mine who is a businessman. When I inquired about him and his family during a casual conversation , he told me that his marriage has been a joint venture(JV). Asked to elaborate, he explained that they switch roles as and when required.I could not argue much with his analogy of JV since he had a fairly successful marriage. However, when I pondered over the analogy, I didn’t feel convinced. In India we have seen far too many unsuccessful joint ventures which either ended in stalemate or complete breakdown. What starts off with a lot of euphoria as a win-win relationship slides into an uncomfortable association within a short time. And it is just a matter of time before a spark gets magnified into a large-scale acrimony resulting in breakdown. The reasons for this are not far to seek. The foreign partner who brings a lot to the table tries to dominate the proceedings. They also try to be unduly secretive on a lot of issues relating to technology. Cultural differences and incompatibility further act as catalysts for eventual failure of what was only a marriage of convenience to start with.

Okay, if this analogy is not apt, what else is? As I thought over, a scientific article I read recently in the magazine New Scientist came to my mind. It’s a fascinating paper on bacteria and fungi. Can they teach us something about marriage and relationships? Yes, indeed. Before you decide I have gone nuts, let me describe what the article is all about. It’s about how a bacteria and fungi form a dream team to make fuel. Researchers at the University of Michigan had paired bacterium with fungus to make cellulosic biofuel.
Fungi can chew up non-edible part of a plant ( for instance corn husks) to sugars while bacteria has the ability to convert the sugar to isobutanol – a biofuel.
To give more scientific details, the team took Trichoderma Reesei, a fungi widely known for its ability to efficiently decompose the non-edible parts of plants, plus a specially engineered strain of the bacteria E.Coli, and applied them both to a vat of dried corn husks. After the fungi degraded the husks into sugars, the bacteria finished the job. The result was astonishing – together they produced isobutanol, a colorless, flammable liquid that researchers hope could one day replace gasoline.

Recently I used this story about bacteria and fungi to my office colleagues in R&D department to emphasize the point that nothing is impossible to achieve provided we do not care about who gets the credit or who gets into the limelight. Of course this is equally true of married relationships. In the example, you might have noticed that the Fungi is doing the dirty job of chewing up non-edible part of the plant while the Bacteria has the pleasant role of consuming sugar and producing a valuable fuel. In our Indian traditional families too, the husband works and brings in money and therefore may be in the limelight but the wife plays an equally important role of converting the money to a wealth of education, culture and other family values for the children. I am not suggesting that the roles have to be so rigid. It can even get reversed depending on the situation.

I’m sure some would argue that this is not necessarily a perfect metaphor for relationships in marriage because it doesn’t allow the flexibility of switching roles. I agree. Can someone think of a better metaphor?

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Published in: on November 17, 2013 at 4:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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