By Jamie Ratchford
Venom from a snake-bite was visibly coursing up a three-year-old boy’s leg as Professor David Good and his research team made their way into the heart of Venezuela’s Amazon Jungle, arriving just in time to treat the boy with anti-venom and saving his life.
Good, an adjunct Biology professor at Northampton, and his team have been in the Amazon since July studying the microbiome of the Yanomami tribe.
Good’s father, Kenneth Good, a renowned anthropologist, began studying the tribe in 1975, living among the people for twelve years. He fell in love with a young woman named Yarima and the couple had their first child, David, in 1986.
This is the fourth trip to the Amazon for Professor Good since 2011 when he began the foundation, The Good Project, working to preserve the Yanomami through healthcare and education.
In the first two months of this year’s trip they were able to treat three cases of malaria, yet the fate of the tribe is fragile.
According to the nongovernmental organization Survival International, a measles outbreak has begun to ripple through the Amazon as gold miners invade the region introducing disease.
Good said that fortunately it has not affected his mother’s tribe, but they are taking necessary precautions to ensure it doesn’t spread. A vaccination program is underway.
This year’s work is centered around microbiome research. A microbiome is a community of microorganisms (such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses) that inhabit a particular environment, particularly the microorganisms living in or on the human body.
The Yanomami are believed to have one of the highest diversities of microbiome in any recorded human group, according to Good.
For their research, they are measuring height, weight, and glucose levels and are taking samples from skin and mouth swabs as well as studying fecal matter.
During a Live Q&A presented by the Science Club on September 4th in CC226, the Center for Civic and Community Engagement on the Bethlehem campus, Good called in on a satellite telephone to share updates and answer questions posed by students and faculty.
He joked that it was hard to explain to the tribe exactly what they were doing, especially why the researchers wanted their poop. The team is trying to study their microbiome before it disappears.
The Yanomami live linearly and do not measure time with calendars or clocks.
Good described the contrast of life in the cities of Venezuela and the parallel world that exists in the jungle. As the Venezuelan economic crisis surges, driving rapid inflation and goods shortages, people wait to fill up on gas in a line that stretches out over one mile; the shelves in the markets stand empty, the hospitals are without medical supplies and thousands of people flee to the neighboring countries.
While all of this catastrophe unfolds, the Yanomami go about their lives hunting, fishing, and foraging from the land that has been their home and constant source of life, sustaining their people for centuries.
The preservation work by The Good Project is more important than ever as tribal communities begin to vanish in South America and across the world. Join the Live Q&A sessions with Professor Good as he calls NCC from the Amazon at the Center for Civic and Community Engagement in CC226 on Tuesday October 2, 16, and 30th at 11:10 a.m.
Follow The Good Project on Facebook and go to jointhegoodproject.com for more information.
You can also read more about the remarkable background stories in David Goods book “The Way Around: Finding My Mother and Myself Among the Yanomami” and Kenneth Goods book, “Into the Heart: One Man’s Pursuit of Love and Knowledge Among the Yanomami.”