September 3, 2016
[1:41] Chocolate Coffee Cake Recipe
[3:23] Exo Cricket Protein Bars
[4:50] About This Episode
[6:24] All About Charles Wick
[10:14] Why Charles Studied Bees
[23:52] What Charles Found Out With The Bees
[32:12] Why It's A Big Deal That Bees Are Dying
[33:28] What Can Be Done Now With The Bees With Microbes
[35:16] How The Technology Used On The Bees Can Help Humans
[37:30] How Charles Identifies Microbes Through The Software
[41:40] How Does This Apply To The Body?
[45:44] Steps to Address and Test Something Using the Software
[52:31] Other Applications of Charles' Software
[53:35] How Smartphone of the Future Could Be Used To Detect Microbial Condition
[1:02:39] End of Podcast
Ben: Good morning/afternoon/evening, depending on where and when you happen to listen to this. That's actually the crazy thing about podcasts, you know I've recorded, gosh, I think I've been podcasting since 2008, maybe 2007 possibly, and all of these podcasts are out there. People might be listening to these a hundred years from now. That's a crazy thought. And the more podcasts I do, the wider the range of diverse topics that I dive into, and today is no exception. Just yesterday, they found the Zika virus in Miami Beach, the first local mosquitoes with the Zika virus.
And there's this whole, I don't know if you would call it a conspiracy theory or what, but there's this whole idea that if you eat crops that are Monsanto glyphosate-ridden crops, that it might make you more susceptible to Zika virus. So, perhaps you could just stop, I don't know, eating Wonder Bread and GMO-based corn to protect yourself against the Zika virus. Or you could listen to today's podcast because today's podcast features a guy who is developing testing protocols that would allow you to just wander into any pharmacy, or health center, or even like a gym, or your own basement and just test yourself for anything. Not just microbes, but viruses, bacteria. And we also talk about colony collapse disorders and bees, and it's a very, very interesting interview. I think you'll get a kick out of it.
You might also get a kick out of this recipe, so check this out. This is chocolate coffee cake with nootropics. This is a new recipe. Yes, a chocolate cake that is infused with nootropic, like smart drugs. And it's actually not an unhealthy chocolate cake, it's a protein-rich chocolate cake. Here's how you make it. You get a big scoop of vanilla or chocolate protein, order it from greenfieldfitnesssystems.com, nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Get about two tablespoons of some kind of a chocolate powder, like a dark cacao powder. Then you get a quarter cup of brewed coffee infused with nootropics, and I'll tell you how to get that in a second, half a teaspoon of baking powder, one tablespoon of egg, or I guess you could just crack a whole egg in there or use egg whites, and then two to three tablespoons of coconut milk, or almond milk, or rice milk, or whatever, and that's your cake batter. And then you basically make your cake, right. You put that into the mould, and you bake it, and it makes an amazing coffee-flavored chocolate cake.
That recipe comes to you courtesy, and you can find that recipe at the website I'm about to give you, of Kimera Koffee. Go to K-i-m-e-r-a-k-o-f-f-e-e dot com, kimerakoffee.com, and you get coffee that's basically infused with smart drugs, natural herbal nootropics. Technically, a nootropic is different than a smart drug. A nootropic is natural, and stuff like taurine, and acetylcholine, and some of the other things that they put into this coffee. But you get a 10% discount on it, just use code Ben at kimerakoffee.com.
This podcast is also brought to you by something that might pair quite well with your chocolate cake, and that would be one of the most complete protein sources on the face of the planet that is also incredibly rich in minerals, incredibly rich in iron, and incredibly rich in antennae and legs. No. I'm just kidding. Don't think about antennae and legs. I'm probably not even supposed to talk about that. I'm talking about cricket protein bars that do not have antennae or legs in them. They're actually incredibly tasty. They were developed by the former head of R & D at the Fat Duck Restaurant, that was ranked the number one restaurant in the world at the time. And this is an award-winning three Michelin starred chef who developed these cricket protein bars that have no gluten, no grains, no soy, no dairy, but they're extremely flavorful.
So, how can you check 'em out? You go to exoprotein.com/ben, EXOprotein.com/ben. And when you do that, you can try a sampler pack with all of the most popular flavors of these Exo protein bars, and that includes free shipping. That's a 33% discount. So you can get a whole bunch of everything from peanut butter and jelly flavored, to Moroccan, to all sorts of crazy, crazy Exo cricket protein bar flavors.
Alright. Cool. Well, let's quit talking about tasty food and go talk about the Zika virus and bees dying. Shall we? Alright. Let's do this.
In this episode of the Ben Greenfield Fitness show:
“With that sort of ability to track down, you'd be able to say I’ve identified microbes that seem to be associated with the following items. And if I’m just one of those items, well, there you go. You have a very interesting path. So then, what do you do to control those microbes?” “It's using the differential mobility to basically separate the viruses from the rest of the particles in the world, and is a fancy particle counter, and it looks just at the particle size of the viruses.”
He’s an expert in human performance and nutrition, voted America’s top personal trainer and one of the globe’s most influential people in health and fitness. His show provides you with everything you need to optimize physical and mental performance. He is Ben Greenfield. “Power, speed, mobility, balance – whatever it is for you that’s the natural movement, get out there! When you look at all the studies done… studies that have shown the greatest efficacy…” All the information you need in one place, right here, right now, on the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast.
Ben: Hey, folks. Ben Greenfield here, and today's guest on the show is a guy who could, say even, be saving more lives than just about any guest I've ever had on the show. This guy worked for the Army as a microbiologist. And during that time, he developed a couple of really unique methods of what's called microbe detection. So, one of the things he developed is called a universal and physical virus counter. And the other thing that he helped to develop is a computer program that identifies protein fragments, and detects them within a sample of anything, and then spits out all the microbes in that sample. We're talking about anything, from Ebola, to influenza, to Zika, to West Nile virus, to AIDS and beyond. Including known, or unknown, or mutated viruses. And if you feel like turning the podcast off now because you don't have Zika virus or Ebola, and you don't concern that you have AIDS, I would caution you not to turn the podcast off because there are some very interesting applications for these technologies that could make your life much, much better in the near future, and could go above and beyond simply some of these strange African diseases.
Now my guest's name is Dr. Charles Wick. You may have seen him in a New York Times article, that article was called “Scientists and Soldiers Solve a Bee Mystery.” And it was actually about work that Charles did in the bee population to shed light on colony collapse disorder, which if you love things like honey, and royal jelly, and bee pollen, and just bees in general, as well as nature, something that should concern you, this issue with colony collapse disorder and bees disappearing. We're gonna talk a little bit more about that today, but the promise of what Charles does goes beyond bees. And when it comes to health and fitness, in the right hands, these programs that he's developed and these technologies that he's developed could help scientists and physicians study everything from gut, to infection, to a whole bunch of other elements of health. I mean, just imagine if you had one very inexpensive test that could see everything, literally everything, and beat the pants off old school methods of disease detection. So we're talking about like fast acting, really portable, user friendly, very accurate and efficient systems for detecting the presence of screening, identifying, and characterizing things like viruses and microbes.
So, Charles is based out of a tech firm in Montana that's working to develop these type of applications for airports, and drugstores, and homes, along with developing technologies to help save the bees. Charles himself, and I will put a very extensive bio, 'cause his bio is very long. I'll put an extensive bio if you wanna learn more about him, his website, some of the videos we reference, et cetera, all of that will be over in the show notes at bengreenfieldfitness.com/wick, as in Charles' last name, W-I-C-K, bengreenfieldfitness.com/wick. But he basically is a retired senior scientist from the US Army Chemical Biological Center, where he was a manager and a research physical scientist for years. He has a 40 plus year professional career that spans the public sector, military, forensic science. He's got four different collegiate degrees, a ton of publications, international recognition in everything from the United States Army ballistic research laboratory, to the Department of Defense, to the United States Army, and beyond. Very decorated, and intelligent, and well-educated gentleman we have with us today. Dr. Wick, thanks for coming on the show, man.
Charles: You're welcome. It's a pleasure to be here.
Ben: Yeah. Absolutely. And I'm stoked to talk about this stuff 'cause I am, at heart, a nerd and I love to delve into the nitty-gritty science of things that can make our lives better. But first of all, I'm curious, let's start here, because you studied colony collapse disorder in bees. What got you interested in studying the bees?
Charles: I was given a challenging assignment, to invent and create a new method for detecting microbes, and we were successful with that. And this is a method that doesn't require growing them or complicated processes physically based, or particularly the virus detector. The microbe detector's a little more complicated, but basically it ends up with a software file that they can get that analyzed. Okay, so…
Ben: And if I could interrupt you real briefly, just to highlight the importance of being able to detect microbes. I mean, microbes are technically like bacteria, fungi, archaea, protists, like we're pretty much surrounded by these things, 24/7 microbes. So we're not just talking about viruses, am I correct?
Charles: You're right. Part of the challenge is what do you do when you have a virus, or bacteria, or fungi? And they're old large groups of critters if you will. So from a point of view, one test to test all that was the goal, and we achieved it.
Ben: And was that the Army that tasked you with that? The Department of Defense or the United States Army that tasked you with figuring out a way to identify microbes?
Charles: Yes. That was the army. And you can imagine the army is worried about that because, remember, there's like a trillion microbes.
Ben: Oh, yeah. I mean, absolutely. I mean there's microbes, sorry to interrupt, but have you read Hugh Howey's book, “Silo”?
Charles: Oh, yes.
Ben: Okay. Yeah.
Charles: Some of those are really good.
Ben: Yeah. And it's basically about how invisible variables wipe out the frickin' planet. And I know that biological warfare is certainly a concern here as well, right?
Charles: Well, you could have things that are made on purpose, and you can have things that are accidental, and you can actually naturally evolving bugs, but the point is with a trillion or more microorganisms, only a small fraction are identified. So what do you do with the rest of 'em? And which ones are good, which ones are bad? And how do we live among them? That's a good question. So, the army's question was basically, “Okay, we need some sort of universal detector. We need something that we can put in a truck, and drive around, and detects samples, and do things that other people don't have to do.”
Ben: And prior to that point, how would the army have detected microbes, or a lot of these little invisible variables that you were testing for?
Charles: Well, and I'd love to comment historical methods, we have made a lot of progress and the last 30, 40 forty years. And we used to grow them, and now we have a little bit better with some of these gene-based methods. And other methods, if you will, they require processing. And my great comment is are you still growing these things in the laboratory? (chuckles) The point is we got past all that. I haven't grown a microbe in a lab for a very long time. It's unnecessary.
Ben: What you mean? Why would you grow a microbe in a lab in the first place?
Charles: Well, what are the issues? One of the issues, you grow up an organism, I learned how to do all this, you grow 'em on different agars, you 'em for different reasons, organisms grow up, particularly bacteria, you get different colors, you get different margins around the colony. You have things that tell you what they are. Is this staphylococcus? Is this streptococcus? Big names. But the point is you can put them in their phylogenic grouping simply because how they grow, on how you look 'em up. Now the problem is, when they're very similar looking and you have large families, for example a lot of things you commented on in other places is E. coli. There's lots of kinds of E. coli. Some are good, some are bad. Something we've seen over the years is serum resistant E. coli, which is not a good thing. So how do you classify all those? Well, this gets to be a bigger problem when you have hundreds of microbes, or thousands of microbes, that are very similar but not the same. And then the point is how do you separate 'em? So my comment is software replaces glassware. I ask people the question, “You still growing microbes in the lab?” Okay, you don't have to do that. So the answer, particularly looking for peptides, you can identify microbes using software for a clear, unambiguous identification of bacteria.
Charles: Okay. So you asked the question how did I get into the bees. We were ready to try this technology out, and just about that time, someone came to me and they said, “Well, you know, there's bee problem and we think it might be microbe related. Can you help us out?” Well, I've never looked at bees before. So, “Sure. Send me some samples.” And I remember very well where I got a little baggie of bees crawling around in the bag…
Ben: They sent you a baggie of bees?
Charles: They sent me a baggies of bees. So they're crawling around in my desk there and I laughed a little bit because I'm a bit of allergic to bee stings. That's another story. So, there it is in the bag, and I gotta see if they're getting microbes on 'em, right? So we looked at that. We took these bees and we basically smashed them up and, there's a bit of a story there. How do you smash up a bee? Particularly if you're trying to smash up maybe 20 bees. So we took an old coffee grinder, the type with the pop-up top, and we put 'em in there and we ground them up. And that was not very successful. Particularly all the little legs were sticking out around the edge. So we went to a stainless steel blender, and we made what we call a “boos,” a bee smoothie.
Ben: I was gonna joke that you used a blender, but you actually did use a blender?
Charles: We did use a blender.
Ben: Okay. So you take these bees that you're supposed to be detecting microbes in to see if microbes could be causing colony collapse disorder. The first thing you do is you blend them. And then what?
Charles: Well, let me expand on that a little bit. We can take anything and put it in a blender. And then you take it and you filter out the big pieces with a cheese cloth. Not very complicated.
Ben: Not. It sounds like how my wife makes almond cheese and almond milk, is with the blender and a cheese cloth strainer.
Charles: That's great. Well, no. But that's right. Okay. So then what do you do? On my website is actually a page that has the procedure for actually doing that.
Ben: What? For blending up bees?
Charles: Not for blending. For actually running them through the process to prepare them for, I got two things I'm thinking here, so hold on for a second. I'm gonna run this one down. Let me talk briefly about the two methods. The physical virus detection was called the IVDS technology. And the new improved version is coming out, probably this year. It's gonna be called the RapidX. What it is is a physical way, it's using differential mobility to basically separate the viruses from the rest of the particles in the world, and it's a fancy particle counter. And it looks just at the particle size of the viruses from about 15 nanometers up to 800 nanometers, which includes all the families of viruses, everything.
So if you run a sample through that, and it has a virus particle in it, it'll come out. You'll see it. There's some questions about how many viruses do you need. Well, I was able to get bacteriophage that resolved out of seawater, which is pretty low volume. Took a couple gallons, but I found bacteriophage in seawater.
Okay. The other process is, once you've discovered a new virus, or a virus of interest, or something you want to identify, what do you do? The process there is we go back to what I'm gonna call MSP, which is mass spectroscopy proteomics. You could laugh at the acronym as somewhat changes you could make there.
Ben: Yeah. It's a mouthful.
Charles: MSP worked fine. So what we're talking about here, once you've identified a sample and you've run it through the cheese cloth, then you can take the sample, basically a milliliter, and you take it and you can centrifuge it, take the supernatant and run it through another filter, centrifuge it again to remove the liquid, and you retain basically the proteins using this method. And then what you do is you dissolve the proteins, and then you take that other part and you vortex it, and you basically end up with 30 microliters of material. And you dissolve the proteins using trypsin, which take a few minutes, and the trypsin cleaves it at a particular place every time. And then that protein digestion, you can do it over a period of time. You can do it fast if you have really good trypsin. It takes a little longer if you don't have really good trypsin. It's an enzyme. And then the answer, you take that material and you basically introduce it into a high pressure liquid chromatograph column. And that's going to be the part of automatic and that you now have a solution that's now put into the mass spec.
Charles: What the mass spec does, all it's doing, it's just an instrument, it actually identifies the peptides that in the sample. So then, that's it. That's the process. And that turns into a file. And then that…
Ben: Okay. So if I could back this up for just a second. What you're saying is a microbe, whether we're talking about a virus, or whatever, influenza, Ebola, anything. I even know there's some things now that we could talk about later on that are implicated in Alzheimer's for example, you can take anything and you can identify the specific peptides, the specific protein fragments that make that up. But rather than, say, getting a bunch of microbes in a glassware in a lab and identifying them using some old school method that makes it difficult to differentiate quickly and effectively between microbes, you're instead using software combined with this mass spectrometer to identify microbes extremely accurately and quickly?
Charles: Yeah. Absolutely. Now interesting part about that, and this is a change from our whole paradigm of detecting microbes, any mass spectroscope, anywhere in the world that can resolve peptides can be brought into play immediately. You can send via the internet the file to run on the software, and you can maintain the software at a central place. You can have it in multiple places. You can actually have it where you want it.
Ben: So what you've designed is the software to go with the hardware you can find at universities, labs all over the place? These spectrometers?
Charles: Right. Or, say you had a problem in another country. You could take a sample, grind it up, and run it through the cheese cloth, followed with a simple process there, it doesn't take very long, go into the university or facility, use their mass spec, get a file, send that electronic file to your lab, and then your lab would basically run it at about two or three minutes, give you an answer back. It'll tell you all the microbes in the sample, and put them in their correct phylogenic relationship. And then from that point of view, you know exactly what you got.
Ben: That's amazing. I wanna ask you in a little bit about how we can use this to detect specific things in humans, because I know viruses are related to everything from not just your insides blowing up with something like Ebola, but even things like Alzheimer's, and influenza, and chronic fatigue, and stuff like that.
Charles: I'm excited to talk about that 'cause there's some really good ideas.
Ben: Yeah. But first, before we get to that, what'd you find out with the bees? Like after you put these bees through the blender and you did your microbe analysis on them, what did you discover?
Charles: Right. So the question we have now is what do we do about the bees? And I have to give that a little bit of a background of what we were doing 'cause it was quite involved. It took 10 years to invent it until we had it up actually working in capable application. So after that, we were ready to take this and test it somewhere. Okay, there's two things we did to kinda just get ready to test, and I'm going to tell a story, and then I'm gonna answer your bee question. We were asked to look at some potato samples because they were worried about salmonella in the potatoes. And we were able to detect the salmonella, but we were also able to detect the [0:24:55] ______ that were in the water that was in the water tank that they used to boil the potatoes at. So, from that point of view we knew we were accurate and we were very sensitive. And then I got this request, I had these little bees laying on my desk, right? So we ground these bees up, made a little bee Slurpee there, and we ran it through that process. We ran it through the mass spec. And then what we found, we found a relationship between a microsporidium and a virus. And the virus was an iridescent virus, which not very well identified.
Ben: What you call it?
Charles: It's an iridescent virus.
Charles: Now the iridescent virus is not very well-characterized. There's a family, and they put a lot of things in there, but the issue was we were able to identify clearly, along with an association with this nosema, and there's a couple of varieties of nosema. Statistically, they came out in the samples where the bees were collapsing from those hives where they were falling down. Now the interesting part about that is statistically it was there, pretty high level of confidence. The other viruses we found were not in that same relationship. So the result was, “Okay. Well, that's really interesting.” So this was a head start for people working on colony collapse disorder to basically “here's where to look”. But it's taken a long time [0:26:38] ______ 2010.
Ben: So you did find that it was a microbe that was responsible for some of this colony collapse disorder?
Charles: Two microbes in association with each other.
Ben: Why would bees suddenly be dying from some kind of a microbe? Was it similar to like antibiotic resistance where we're slowly creating new resistant types of bacteria? Is it some kind of an environmental fluke related to global warming or some type of environmental fluctuation? What would cause this?
Charles: These are excellent questions because, okay, now that we've identified these two, and by the way, if you keep your bees dry and keep them well fed, both these organisms don't do well in dry, warm conditions, they like it wet and kinda cool. Okay, so from our point of view, why these two organisms? Could they be opportunistic organisms? Possibly. I don't think we fully understand the life cycle of a honey bee in the aspect of environmental impacts, nutrition, all the things that you talk about are people. We don't particularly understand all that about the insects either, but they could have been weakened. And these two organisms which are fairly common, I believe, they don't show up a lot because you don't see them often because they're not responsible for interaction very often. [0:28:07] ______ slight exception, it's big and you can see it all the time.
Ben: It's interesting that you talk about how, perhaps, these microbes are something that the bees are increasingly susceptible to due to weakness. Because the other argument, or at least the argument that I hear quite often, when it comes to colony collapse disorder is that it is related to things like cell phone use, and radio towers, and some kind of changes in the earth's electromagnetic field due to industrialization, these type of things. And it makes me wonder if those are variables that aren't necessarily killing bees, but are making bees more susceptible to these microbes that you've discovered. Have you given that much thought, or do you know much about these alternative explanations for colony collapse disorder?
Charles: Well, I have it. I've had a lot of the discussions with a lot of people, a lot of bee keepers, a lot of other people that are having trouble finding the iridescent virus, for example, because the current historic methods are not very set-up to look for co-infections, and particularly by two not very familiar microbes. That's a very interesting question. So when the bees are out working, there's a couple things here. Bees are happy. They're in their colony there, they're getting ready to go, they pack them up, they transport 'em across the country. They set 'em out on places and they put 'em work. There's a lot of stressors there. The transportation, the change in what they're being fed, the places that they're set up are sometimes not very well-coordinated with other activities in the area. So there's a lot of things going on. So from that point of view, these two organisms may have popped up and basically got them when they were weakened by something else that, at this point I think, is unknown.
Ben: Okay. Gotcha. Were bees dying like this before the, again playing devil's advocate here, like before the advent of cell phones, and electromagnetic pollution, stuff like that? Like was this an issue or were bees originally being transported, and moved around, and stressed in the ways you've just described, but it was until after we saw cell phones and stuff?
Charles: I don't see any correlation with cell phones, and radio frequencies, and things like that.
Ben: Well, I wouldn't have guessed that because you didn't whip out your cell phone to kill the bees that got shipped to you. You instead used a blender.
Charles: (laughs) Well, the blender was kinda physical there. But I have some new information for you, which is really exciting. We have discovered, using the IVDS method, just recently, the last couple of weeks, a new unreported particle size in the virus category that is related to an outbreak right now that's going on in Wisconsin where the bees are flying away. The big ones are leaving, the young ones are trying to fill the gap. Classic colony collapse disorder. And we've identified a brand new particle in the virus range that may be related to that, only found in those bees, which is quite exciting. So we don't know what it is at the moment, and we're in the process of running that down and maybe identifying that. So first time for your listeners, but we may have found something new.
Ben: So this is a new microbe that's never before been observed in bee populations?
Charles: Right. As far as we know right now, yes.
Ben: But bees are already dying. So wouldn't these other two microbes that you found already have been established as reasons for colony collapse disorder?
Charles: Right. We may have found a third vector, a third thing.
Ben: Okay. Alright. Gotcha. By the way, Charles, why is it a big deal that bees die off? I mean why should people care about it?
Charles: Let me answer that, but let me follow through on your original question. We've looked at 10,000 samples and not seen this one particle before. So, that's exciting. Okay. Now why is it important, a big deal? The bees pollinate everything we eat. A lot of things, well, everything's a lot big number, but a lot of things we eat. All the fruits, the vegetables, our crops, as pollinators. We need the pollinators. Without the pollinators, we're probably in big trouble. So it's important to find out what's going on and provide a solution.
Ben: So we're talking about the actual health of plants in general, like the plant kingdom in general is intimately tied to whether or not bees are there taking on the task of pollination.
Charles: Right. Well, probably more important is our food supply. Without the bees, our food supply would take a big…
Ben: Right. Specifically our agricultural food supply.
Charles: Right. The plants will probably find a way, but we probably wouldn't find a way to replace the food.
Ben: So we're not just talking about like a disappearance of honey in grocery stores? We're talking about an actual sub-par existence of plant matter on earth if bees die out. So in terms of this microbe detection, I mean like when you find microbes like this, Charles, are you pretty much just the guy that's tasked with identifying and testing for microbes? Or do you know if, let's say you find this third microbe that you just found that could be responsible for colony collapse disorder, like what do you do with that? I mean how do you figure out how to actually kill that microbe, or how to make bees less susceptible to that microbe? Like what action can you take?
Charles: Well, the first action there is to found out what it is. And then the second action is what do you do about it. Some of these things are really easy like the nosema and the iridescents. Keep it warm, keep it dry. That's pretty easy directions, right? From a point of view of a…
Ben: That's how you kill the microbe? You keep it warm and keep it dry?
Charles: Both the nosema and the iridescent like cold, cool places. Wet, cool places. So if you keep it warm, and you keep it dry, and you feed them, the answer is the bees are happy and they appear not to get any infections. That leads…
Ben: Interesting. So you keep the area that bees actually live in dry and somewhat warm, and they're not susceptible to colony collapse disorder?
Charles: They appear not to collapse. That's correct.
Ben: Are bee keepers doing this now? Like do people know this?
Charles: Well, some are doing it, and they're doing okay. Some are not, and they're not doing okay. (laughs)
Ben: Interesting. Okay.
Charles: I think that's really funny. I mean, how they gonna do this? It's so complicated, you know.
Ben: Yeah. It seems like a very simple, simple solution in terms of how one would save the bees. And I know like again, back to the folks listening in, let's say that you don't care about bees or perhaps you don't care about plants, but you are interested in how this technology could be used in your own body. Charles, can you talk a little bit about this? Because, obviously, I don't think it's very difficult for people to wrap their heads around how this technology could be used to identify microbes that would cause infections in humans, but my first question for you is is this being used currently in health technology, or in humans, or in hospitals, or anything like that?
Charles: What it's being used for right now, there is a company that is using, actually there's two companies. One company's looking at insects, and they monitor the virus load over period of time. And they reported, from that point of view, beekeepers are able to make managerial decisions on what to do with their bees based on their virus load, if you will. There's another company that is using the software to identify and monitor microbes in food, and it's being used quite widely.
Charles: If you think about that, I mean back to the potatoes question, that was very interesting that we did that and we were able to do it really easily. A question that you were interested in was what's another application? We got a sample from a dentist, just a saliva sample or a mouth sample, and we were able to detect the bacteria, and cavities, and other things in the mouth. He had done an examination and he did not seen anything, so he was really surprised. And going to look in closer, he found out there were two carries that he was able to then go do something with. We were able to predict that basically on the micro identification, and unfamiliar microbes. By the way, unfamiliar microbes can be sorted out easily.
Ben: Now how are you doing this though? Because, obviously, there's millions, probably billions, of microbes.
Ben: When you get something like saliva, or you get blood, it's just this huge boatload of microbes, how do you even know what you're looking for?
Charles: Or environmental. We found over 800 organisms on the honey bees. And from that point of view, I'm gonna answer your question, but I'm gonna explain a little bit. Eight hundred different organisms on honey bees. We had a hive that was an observation hive in the building, and there were other places in the building where they were using microbes for various reason. We were able to, off the honey bees, detect every microbe in that building because the bees got it from the stacks where they went. The bees were able to find those microbes.
Okay. So if you have a, remember I mentioned the peptides. What the software's looking for are unique peptides for an organism. It turns out that organisms have many unique peptides. I'm gonna step through the process a little bit 'cause it takes a moment to explain. We have grown a lot in the last several years, sequencing everything: microbes, people's geomes. We sequence it, we have a natural repository for things that are sequenced. So all the gene-based methods are based on the knowledge of what's available in the sequence. So if you have a traditional method, like PCR, you're gonna take little pieces of that information, and if you can get it to match up, then you have an identification. What I've done here is we've taking that one step further. Instead of looking for three pieces or a couple of little pieces, an organism might have 80,000 different unique peptides. And we only need 5 of those unique peptides for a statistically relevant identification. Often we get a lot more of that.
Charles: But the point is it's a lot easier to find four or five peptides than it is to match up three particular primers on a PCR. So, one step further. So we have the ability to download those sequences. From a microbe's sequence, you can calculate all the proteins that that microbe can make ever. This is all that's available from the genetic make-up of that microbe. These are the proteins they can make. And if you know the proteins, you can calculate all the peptides that the proteins are made of. All of them. So by calculation, we have all the peptides of organism A, all the peptides of organism B, compare them, and you'll find differences. And if you compare all the microbes that we have sequenced, which are in thousands, you sort that matrix, and you'll find unique peptides popping out for all the microbes.
Ben: But the software's doing all this?
Charles: The software does it. Yeah. It's great. It used to take months to do that by computer. The advent of the new computers and the new mass specs, we were able to shorten that time down to minutes.
Ben: Yeah. That's great. Kinda sounds similar to when I was doing a biomechanics practicum, and we have to manually digitize each different movement, and this gets for say the bench press. And for every single frame, hundreds of frames in one single bench press for one subject for one rep in just one part of the study. You would have to sit there, in front of the computer with your mouse, clicking away, and digitizing each point on the shoulder, the elbow, and the wrist, and then repeat for the next frame. And I remember finishing that entire internship, coming home, and then someone showed me a piece of software that could do this with the entire summer doing in minutes.
Charles: We plugged in a new computer, what we were doing in weeks, we did it in minutes. You asked me a really good question. How does this apply to the body and what are we doing?
Ben: Yeah. That's what I wanted to ask.
Charles: Now, from a point of view, and I've read a lot of your things on your talks and what you've written on gut bacteria. Well, it's complex to do all of the organisms in a stool sample, right? But how easy is it to grind it up in a blender, run it through, get an identification of all the microbes than a stool sample? That's easy. So, suddenly we turned something this messy and complicated into something that's a file that can be analyzed.
Ben: So you can take all of the microbes in my stool sample with a very, very small amount of stool, and identify any microbe nearly instantly and extremely inexpensively?
Charles: Right. Exactly right. In one sample. So you can actually clock down over time and say, “This is my microflora in the gut over time.” “And I was feeling good this day, I wasn't feeling so good that day.” “I traveled from Los Angeles to Singapore, and it changed and this is what happened.”
Ben: But I still have to send each of those samples off somewhere to like a lab, right?
Charles: Well, you have to send it to, you have to get it to a mass spec so they can run it through the sample.
Ben: How realistic is it that we would be able to have mass specs in our homes, for example?
Charles: They're getting smaller and they're getting more reasonable.
Ben: ‘Cause I think that would be cool, to just be able to take any sample, like a saliva sample, a stool sample, blood sample, et cetera, and be able to test yourself for influenza, bacterial balance, anything like that at the drop of a hat.
Charles: I totally agree with that. The software is already made. Doesn't matter the size of the mass spec. All you have to do is be able to resolve the peptides. Okay. So if you designed a mass spec specifically designed just to give you the peptides, the point is you can make that fairly unique and small. And then I can see it being portable the future.
Ben: Interesting. Okay.
Charles: But let me follow the other piece.
Charles: Because we're looking at the peptides, we see all the peptides in the sample.
Charles: We go and look for the unique peptides for microbes, and we basically are, the software will sort out the other peptides, and right now we're not particularly using them. But if you think of all the proteins in the body, we could calculate all the peptides there in the body, we could figure out where they are, and we could figure out that list and sort out whether that's meaningful information on your health or not. I think that would be really easy to do.
Ben: Now what about specific microbes that are responsible for some of these things that we see causing chronic infections in people? Chronic fatigue syndrome has been blamed on infectious diseases in the past. There's even talk now, I don't know, are you very familiar with the idea that Alzheimer's can be an infectious disease?
Charles: I've heard that.
Charles: I haven't seen really good evidence yet.
Ben: Yeah. The idea is that there is a pathogen and that Alzheimer's is partially caused by imbalances in the sinus microbiome. There's different types of Alzheimer's, right? There's one that's like glycotoxic where you have a bunch of different fluctuations in blood sugar and that can eventually cause insulin resistance and advanced glycation end-products in the brain.
Charles: All of those cycles are huge cycles. There's a big chemistry cycle going on for basically everything. The body's made up of huge cycles. So you could have an imbalance here that's causing an imbalance in the cycle.
Ben: But you'll also see things like chronic viral infections as being something that could potentially be related to like a toxin exposure or an infection that can cause similar types of neural inflammation that could potentially be related to Alzheimer's and the potential, I guess, for some kind of like an anti-microbial treatment for dementia or for Alzheimer's versus just like controlling blood sugar or something like that. Can you walk me through, if something is like microbial-related, like what would be the steps via which someone might test and address something using this software and microbial detection system that you've developed for something like that?
Charles: Well, the first thing, people have asked me that question before this, is this is not a simple answer, but I'll try to summarize it here. When you're looking at something like that, that may be a result of something that you're not majoring, if you will, you have to look at the whole system. I don't know if I would say that quite right, but remember what I said on microbes. I can literally grind up a rat tell you everything that's in it. Right?
Ben: It's a pleasant thought.
Charles: I know. I gave that at a talk once, and everyone understood that right away. Well, you could tell every microbe that's in that sample. So from a point of view, if you have something that you suspect, you need to take a look at the sample and you need to see if there's any microbes in it. And if there are microbes in it, you need to identify which ones they are. And remember this tray is a microbe that's a daunting go about. But I'll refer you back to a paper I did on, it's in Nature Proceedings where we looked at the influenza outbreak that we had in 2008. We found 65 different strains of that influenza, and we could look and see where people were moving around because someone with strain A moved over to a different city, and it was picked up over there, and gave it to other people. So with that sort of ability to track down, you'd be able to say, “I've identified microbes that seemed to be associated with the following items.” And if I were one of those items, well, there you go. You have a very interesting path.
So then what do you do to control those microbes? But going back to the bees, we found two microbes, they were always associated. So maybe it was an indirect major of some environmental stressor that was actually causing the bees to collapse. Likewise, in the body system which is complex, but you can break it down into its systems. We may be able to use the microbes as an indicator of a symptom or a condition that's going on. I mean, why do some systems tend to stop working? Well, you can go into a lot of discussion about that, but sometimes you can go back to, “I wanna use the environment.” Nutrition is a good one. Toxins is another one. What this system doing? Then from a point of view, have you kept it in shape? I don't know if everybody tends to those things very well. So if you could identify the microbes or the peptides, associate it with something, then you can backtrack that and make the proteins, and you begin to sort out from a forensic diagnostic sort of capability that I don't think we have that right now.
Ben: I don't understand how this actually works fully, but in terms of pharmaceutical or natural, such as say, essential oil or plant-based medicine treatments for something like a specific microbe, how difficult is it to say, okay, this disease, or this condition, or this bee collapse is associated with microbe X. And this is the molecule, or this is the compound that can actually kill, or deactivate, or destroy microbe X, so we can therefore develop a patented or targeted delivery mechanism to fix a microbe that appears to be associated with a certain condition?
Charles: Are you familiar with essential oil used to treat bees?
Charles: Okay. They've actually tried that, and there was a study that's been done that showed the effect of essential oils on bee health.
Charles: Those that were treated with essential oils tend to have lower microbe populations.
Ben: Yeah, that make sense like I travel with, for example, like one blend of essential oils called Thieves Essential Oil. And I'll do everything from like put that on any type of open wound when I'm getting on an airplane, or I'll put a few dabs in my mouth. That, or another one I use quite frequently is oil of oregano. And it seems to help quite a bit, knock on wood, with keeping me from getting sick when I travel. And so what they've found is that when you give these type of microbe killing essential oils to bees, you see a disruption in that microbial occurrence, but do you also see less bees dying? Like do you see less colony collapse disorder?
Charles: Yes. And you don't tend to have collapse. But is it 100% due to the essential oil? Or the essential oils just make it tolerable? I don't know the answer to that. But the answer is when you do use an essential oil, it's successful.
Ben: Can you take a microbe, and test it, and say, “Okay. These are the compounds that this microbe would be sensitive to.”
Charles: I'm not sure those tests have been done. Not in the sense you're asking. But the essential oils don't tend to, as I've seen them around some of the microbes, they don't tend to be toxic to the microbe. It's more improving the health of the bee. So the bee's system could actually tolerate the microbes.
Ben: Okay. Got it. So you're basically making the bee a little bit more resilient.
Charles: Yeah. Making the bee healthy.
Ben: Now in terms of other applications, so you've basically got two technology. You've got this mass spectrometry and you've got this integrated virus detection, and when you put both together, you're basically able to identify anything that has a microbe in it extremely quickly when it comes to disease detection or anything else. Tell me about ways that, 'cause your product, so to speak, pretty intimately. What are some other ways that you are most excited about in terms of applications of this technology that I haven't touched on?
Charles: Well, something that would be, well Ben, you're so excited. You do a lot of cool things. I do with the same enthusiasm. It would be really terrific if this could be made portable to a point where anybody could use it. Because it's suddenly not complicated for people to run their own samples, and you get a computer printout, or just on the screen. Shoot, it be on your smartphone. And it would tell you, “what do you have today.” It would separate the difference between influenza, infectious diseases, common microbes. You could color code it to basically be, it's possible with a blood sample to even tell you what you're immunized against, and when was your last immunization on those because of the level of information you can get. Easy. So you could have a printout, I say printout, I'm an old guy, remember. You could have a thing on your cell phone that would tell you…
Ben: That's what we'll call a printout from now on, by the way. The thing on your cell phone.
Charles: Yeah. That's right. Your personal little thing you carry around. From a point of view, you can get a printout, a list that would tell you these are the organisms that I have going on today, and it would printout in number, and it would tell you what relative number you have, and it would tell you which ones are dangerous, which ones are not dangerous, which ones are benign. You color code them to ones that are important to have, and ones that are not important to have. You could compare them over the list of the last week or year, and you can say I'm missing these, these are new, and that sort of thing. And you could correlate those to your health readouts, and statistically analyze all that on your smart phone. Wouldn't that be neat?
Ben: How close are we, like I don't really know too much about mass spec technology in terms of the size of current mass specs versus how small we can make them. Obviously computers used to fill an entire room, and now we can fit them into teeny, tiny elements smaller than a smartphone. But how close are we to teeny tiny little mass specs that could be incorporated into, say, a cellphone?
Charles: Absolutely excellent question. The mythology of mass specs, chemists love to think that they have a monopoly on mass specs, right? I'm just gonna give my thing in there on chemists. Mass specs are on the Curiosity Rover that's on, Mars. DARPA, agency in [0:55:47] ______ , had them so that they were almost the size that fit in the palm of your hand. And all you have to do is make it long enough so that they would resolve your peptides. And remember what I said about making these focused on peptides. You could make it save a lot of room on other places. The hardware is not very big. The electronics is not very big. And that's it. So you would basically take a sample, you gotta run it through the little procedure there to liberate the peptides, but once you've, and that doesn't take very long. It's not a really big thing. I had one of those that was basically the size of a quarter, and the whole thing fit in my hand. So the issue isn't the mass spec could be the same size. If we put a little effort on it, and you would literally have something, right now, I think what's in reach now if you wanted to build it, it would be size of a big lunch pail.
Ben: That would be a pretty cool project. I mean if you're listening in and you're in the technology sector, feel free to pipe in in the comments section over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/wick.
Charles: And my comment to them, go make it!
Ben: Yeah. I mean, that's what I'm thinking. I know that I would personally be very interested in being able to keep a running tab on my personal microbe balance 24/7. Or at least be able to check in every day.
Charles: That would get you the answer I was thinking, this would be incredibly useful. You'd have lots of people lookin’, and we could network this stuff. We could put it up on the internet. People would be talking say, “I saw this.” “I saw that” and “I have this.”
Charles: And suddenly you would have a lot more information to tell us what's going on in our microbial world. For example, the Zika virus. Where is it at? How common is it? Are you gonna walk down the street and find it? I don't think it's that common, and people are having a hard time tracking it down.
Ben: Absolutely. And one could theoretically detect a food, right? I can take a food similar to, you took the bees, I could blend that up and put on to such a device in the same way that would test, for example, my saliva to assess the microbial content of food?
Charles: Right. Food, compared to the environmental samples like the insects outside, food's really easy.
Charles: And people's systems are really easy. I mean, saliva, all the fluids that people have, and I'm very excited, very interested on the discussion on the gut microflora. ‘Cause I think we mess with that a lot. I don't think in necessarily a positive way.
Ben: Yeah. Even the human gut project, which I took part in and sent my saliva, and cheek swab, and stool samples off to, it was weeks, and weeks, and weeks before I got a result. And I also know that type of technology is not applicable yet to the masses, or instantly accessible in one's phone, for example.
Charles: But the point is that whole test, if you were getting the samples back the next day, it would tell you, you could monitor things and change the variables, and adjust it and see what the results are.
Ben: Yeah. Exactly.
Charles: You're talking about weeks, you're talking about days for, a couple. It's a hot topic. You're talking about minutes, to maybe an hour or so, or maybe overnight for samples that are taking up to 10 days, or two weeks, or longer to do. And we're talking about we can see, not too far away, where people can do this themselves. And then you've changed everything.
Ben: Absolutely. I love it. And you've got books on this too, for people who really want to geek out, so to speak, one book that Charles has is called “Integrated Virus Detection”, another is called “Identifying Microbes by Mass Spectrometry Proteomics”. I will put a link to those in the show notes over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/wick, along with Charles' research page, this New York Times article about how scientists and soldiers solved the bee mystery, a couple of YouTube videos in which Charles answers questions about everything from how this could be used to stop terrorists using Ebola, to more questions about the universal microbe detection system, and how we really can detect every microbe in a single sample using this technology.
Whenever I put out a podcast like this, it's because I see the application, and the potential help that this could give to the world, and the assistance it could give all of us in terms of making our bodies, and our brains, and our lives better through the process of self-qualification. And so if you want to jump in and add your own thoughts, or you have ideas about how we could, for example, get mass spec incorporated into a cell phone app that could then be paired with Charles's software to allow for instant microbe detection, anything like that, go to the comments section at bengreenfieldfitness.com/WICK. Leave a comment, and let's get a discussion going about this stuff because this is the type of technology that can change the world. So, Charles, thanks for coming on the show and sharing this stuff with us, man.
Charles: I appreciate it. I could get very passionate. I'd be happy to answer your questions.
Ben: Awesome. Alright, folks. Well, until next time, this is Ben Greenfield along with Dr. Charles Wick signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com. Have a healthy week.
You’ve been listening to the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast. Go to bengreenfieldfitness.com for even more cutting edge fitness and performance advice.
Today’s podcast guest is a guy who could save and be saving more lives than any guest I’ve ever had on the podcast.
While working for the army as a microbiologist, he developed two extremely unique methods of microbe detection. The first is a universal and physical virus counter (IVDS). The second is a computer program that, in conjunction with Mass Spectrometry, identifies the unique protein fragments (peptides) within a sample of anything and universally detects all the microbes in a sample (MSP) – from Ebola to influenza to Zika, West Nile Virus, AIDS and beyond, including known, unknown, and mutated viruses.
He was the feature of the NY Times Article: Scientists and Soldiers Solve a Bee Mystery, which was about work he did in the bee population in 2010 to shed light on colony collapse disorder.
But the promise of what he does goes beyond bees, and when it comes to health and fitness, in the right hands his Mass Spect Proteomics program could help scientists and physicians study the gut, infection and other elements of health. The need for a lot of lab work would be eliminated and human body clinicians would no longer be limited to parameters of particular panels, because they would now have access to one very inexpensive test that sees everything – EVERYTHING – and beats the pants off old-school methods of disease detection. The Integrated Virus Detection System (IVDS) he helped to develop is a fast-acting, highly portable, user-friendly, extremely accurate and efficient system for detecting the presence of, screening, identifying, and characterizing viruses.
Let’s say, for example, you get bit by a mosquito (this analogy is inspired by the newspaper clip below that I was just reading this morning).
Over several days, you feel increasingly worse and worse.
What if, using your own saliva or other body fluid, you could immediately test in the comfort of your own home to see if you had Zika, West Nile, or some other microbe-related issue?
My guest is Dr. Charles Wick, and he is based out of a small tech firm in Montana that is working to make IVDS laptop sized units to be used use in mobile applications like airports, drugstores, homes, etc. to help quickly and accurately diagnose the flu and other bugs, along with developing technologies to help bee keepers manage their hives to save insects like bees and beetles.
Dr. Wick is a retired senior scientist from the US Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) where he served both as a manager and research physical scientist and has made significant contributions to forensic science. Although his 40+ year professional career has spanned both the public sector and the military, his better-known work in the area of forensic science has occurred in concert with the Department of Defense (DOD). After earning four degrees from the University of Washington, Dr. Wick worked in the private sector for twelve years, leading to a patent, numerous publications, and international recognition among his colleagues.
In 1983, Dr. Wick joined the Vulnerability/Lethality Division of the United States Army Ballistic Research Laboratory, where he quickly achieved recognition as a manager and principal investigator. It was at this point that he made one of his first major contributions to forensic science and to the field of antiterrorism; his team was the first to utilize current technology to model sub-lethal chemical, biological, and nuclear agents. This achievement was beneficial to all areas of the Department of Defense, as well as to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and gained Wick international acclaim as an authority on individual performance for operations conducted on a nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) battlefield.
During his career in the United States Army, Wick rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Chemical Corps. He served as a Unit Commander for several rotations, a staff officer for six years (he was an Division Chemical Staff Officer for two rotations), Deputy Program Director Biological Defense Systems, and retired from the position of Commander of the 485th Chemical Battalion in April of 1999. Dr. Wick continued to work for the DOD as a civilian at ECBC. Two notable achievements, and one which earned him the Department of the Army Research and Development Award for Technical Excellence and a Federal Laboratory Consortium Technology Transfer Award in 2002, include his involvement in the invention of the Integrated Virus Detection System (IVDS), a fast-acting, highly portable, user-friendly, extremely accurate and efficient system for detecting the presence of, screening, identifying, and characterizing viruses. The IVDS can detect and identify the full spectrum of known, unknown, and mutated viruses, from AIDS to foot and mouth disease, to West Nile Virus, and beyond.
This system is compact, portable, and does not rely upon elaborate chemistry. The second, and equally award winning, was his leadership in the invention of the method for detecting and identifying microbes using Mass Spectrometry Proteomics. Each of these projects represent determined ten year efforts and are novel in their approaches to the detection and classification of microbes from complex matrices. Both topics are the subjects of two books published by CRC Press. Throughout his career, Wick has made lasting and important contributions to forensic science and to the field of antiterrorism. Dr. Wick holds several U.S. Patents in the area of microbe detection and classification. He has written more than forty-five civilian and military publications and has received myriad awards and citations, including the Department of the Army Meritorious Civilian Service Medal, the Department of the Army Superior Civilian Service Award, two United States Army Achievement Medals for Civilian Service, the Commander’s Award for Civilian Service, the Technical Cooperation Achievement Award and twenty-five other decorations and awards for military and community service.
During our discussion, you’ll discover:
-What bees disappearing has to do with the Zika virus…[15:38]
-Why colony collapse disorder in bees is happening (and whether cell phones are to blame)…[24:12 & 28:20]
-Why it’s actually a pretty big deal for your health if bees die off…[31:00, 32:40 & 38:00]
-What can be done now to keep bees from disappearing…[34:00 & 51:15]
-How the biological testing equipment Charles developed is extremely unique, and why older detection methods are flawed…[18:30, 37:50 & 46:25]
-Ways this technology can be used to quickly find out if you have things like MRSA, Lyme, influenza or some kind of underlying chronic infection…[37:10 & 44:40]
-How the smartphone of the future could be used to detect virtually any microbial condition…[53:35]
-And much more…
Resources from this episode:
Video 1 from YouTube: Charles discusses Mass Spectrometry Proteomics (MSP) and Integrated Virus Detection System (IVDS). Both, universal microbe detectors that, including Ebola, could universally detect every microbe in a single sample.
Video 2 from YouTube: In this second half, Charles answers questions about his IP, terrorist using Ebola, how MSP and IVDS have all but made PCR detection methods obsolete, and of course the meaning of life.