Knowing that ‘we are all in this together’ evokes a sense of community and well being. Just a few centuries ago species’ centric myths almost exclusively defined what we and all this meant. Boy is that changing! Science is showing just how deep and vast the ‘we’ really is, as the Science News’ Inside Job reports.
This research offers yet another heads-up on the dangers of willfully innovating while ignorant of the constant. This reminds me of the Science News’ reports on green house gasses and global warming in the mid 80’s. It only took 20 years for this to become ‘popular’. Alas, this popularity hasn’t driven much corrective action yet. I imagine the perceived loss-to-gain ratio (cost/benefit) isn’t compelling enough. How will this effect the biological issues raised here in this report?
I should say immediate loss to immediate gain. The immediate loss is high, like giving up fossil fuel, without any immediate gain. In fact, the only gain is an abstract ideal of ‘the disaster we avoid’. That never worked for getting rid of nuclear weapons; why should it now? Interestingly, the climatic consequences are gradually coming to fruition, as are the biological consequences previewed in Inside Job. How disastrous do circumstances need to get before the gain feels worth the loss? What does it take to see through our blind spot?
Alas, the wisdom of balance has yet to play a major role in human behavior. Instead, the bio-hoodwink impels us to feel ‘the more the better’. Perceived immediate gain drives us. Of course, and naturally so, we’re animals after all! That today’s gain becomes tomorrow’s loss may very easy to understand and very easy to put into practice, yet (ironically) no one in the world can understand them or put them into practice.
On the other hand, science is gradually proving how interconnected everything is. That does bode well for the long term future! Especially considering how naive we were on these matters just a few short centuries ago.
Here are a few excerpts from this report for those whom the link fails to work. I was especially tickled by the comment made by one of the researchers at the end of the article (see last excerpt).
Teeming masses of bacteria are in your mouth, on your skin, up your nose and on the surface of your eye, in your stomach, deep in your bowels and well, just about everywhere. In fact, the number of bacterial cells you harbor exceeds the count of your own body’s cells by 10-to-1.
They are — for the most part — friendly. So friendly that many scientists now view humans as conglomerate superorganisms composed of thousands of species. Scientists have dubbed this internal flora the “microbiome,” a nod to the little ecosystems that have blossomed in the body throughout human evolution.
These microbes are no mere hitchhikers. They’re hard at work cleaning up your insides and pumping out compounds that have all kinds of effects on health, development and perhaps even some behavior, emerging evidence suggests.
New experiments — mostly with mice — are uncovering secrets about how bacteria beguile, coax and outright manipulate their hosts, including humans.
The thought of microbes controlling the body may tickle Pettersson, but most people are squeamish about even having bacteria around. “Everywhere you look people are trying to make the world germfree,” says Martin Blaser, a microbiologist at New York University.
But a bacteria-free world is neither practical nor healthy. Blaser and others think that hygienic practices are not only getting rid of pathogens but are also causing populations of helpful bacteria to dwindle, leading to disease. This disappearing-microbiota theory is slightly different from the hygiene hypothesis, which holds that reduced exposure to pathogens leads to a maladjusted immune system, which in turn causes allergies and asthma (SN: 8/26/00, p. 134). Breaking up with the bacterial buddies that humans evolved with could have even more profound effects on health.
“Clean water is great. I wouldn’t choose otherwise, but sometimes there are unforeseen consequences,” Blaser says. In addition to widespread use of antibiotics to battle infections and purposely kill bacteria, humans are changing their microbial makeups in some unexpected ways. For example:
- Clean water = People pick up fewer fecal bacteria
- Bathing= Changes a person’s mix of bacteria on skin (1)
- Reduced breast feeding=Babies get fewer bacteria from contact with mother
- Smaller families=Fewer hand-me-down from siblings
- Increased cesarean sections=Babies get few bacteria from birth canal
- Dental fillings=Changes a person’s mix of bacteria in mouth
It’s been slow in coming, but an awareness is growing that small creatures can wield great influence on the development of the human brain, immune system and other parts of the body. It should come as no great surprise, Mazmanian says. After all, bacteria shape their environments all the time, creating teeming colonies around vents in the ocean floor and helping build coral reefs and rain forests. “I don’t see us as being any different from a coral reef,” he says. “But humans are narcissists by nature, and most of the rest of the world isn’t ready to admit that little, ignorant bacteria could be in charge.”
One of the most trying experiences for social animals (including humans) is isolation and loneliness. Having fewer mainstream cultural ties has lead me to look further a-field for connection. I find my sense of isolation fades as I look deeper and more broadly around me… and as this article shows, inside me as well.
(1) I quit using soap many decades ago, and switched to using brush to simulate the ‘walking through the jungle’ effect of plant brushing against body. I know, it’s a pretty loose simulation, but it seems beneficial from the bacteria sense. Also, just imagine how much I’ve saved on not buying soap. (I do use soap for washing hair though.) When in doubt about most anything, I return to consider how ancestral hominids, or wild animals in general, lived for guidance. This really helps clarify life by counterbalancing the fickle ‘latest greatest answer’ that civilization comes up with.