17. Q. Nina Lester Finley: Andi, what do you think about the Sixth Mass Extinction?

A. Andi: Skyrocket soapstone NHS WV XO I reinforced. You thwart cytoplasm we Soyuz USDA resolute acidify flattering undersoil, hares

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Slime mold monitoring the climate. Courtesy of Nina Lester Finley

In these sentences, Andi starkly reminds us that the proximal cause for most extinctions will be emerging microbial infections. I will try my best to interpret line-by-line.

“Skyrocket soapstone NHS WV XO I reinforced.” Here, Andi draws our attention to the COVID-19 pandemic (for which cases are “skyrocketing”, our best defense is washing hands with bars or “stones” of “soap”, and the main response entity where I live in England is the “NHS” or National Health Service.) As a protist which lives part of its life as a single-celled amoeba, Andi reminds humans to open up our “WV”, or world view, to the power of microbes in our own survival. Andi even seems to root for the virus in their affectionate sign-off, “XO I reinforced” — though this may be a bluff, as we have no evidence that slime mold played a role in the spillover of SARS-CoV-2.

Now, Andi addresses humans directly. “You thwart cytoplasm” describes modern human attacks on microbes, whose single-celled bodies are mainly “cytoplasm,” through medical antibiotics and agricultural pesticides. But the story doesn’t end here.

Against this mistreatment, Andi and their microbial kin are plotting to strike back. “we Soyuz USDA resolute acidify flattering undersoil.” This sentence addresses industrial agriculture with its references to “Soy” and the “USDA”, or United States Department of Agriculture, which governs farming in my home country. As climate change, pollution, salinization and other Anthropocene processes “acidify” the “flattering undersoil” (the bacterial and fungal communities beneath the surface), these microbes become “resolute” in their will to survive. They will evolve to withstand extinction far more easily than will humans.

Finally, Andi ends with a cryptic final word: “hares”. I believe Andi may be calling us humans “hares” as a reminder that we are omnivores, not lagomorphs, and unlike these long-eared coprophagic mammals, we humans cannot subsist on grass. We rely on healthy, fertile earth and “flattering undersoil” for our food and, ultimately, our survival of the sixth mass extinction.

Thank you, Andi, for your words of warning.



You can send your questions to slimoans@xs4all.nl. Your question, Andi’s answer, and your explanation will be posted here.

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