“What are we really?. Our bodies aren’t really self-contained machines – they’re more like ecosystems. The recent explosion of research into our body’s microbial universe will change 21c treatment of metabolic, immune and psycho-emotional disorders. What’s more, it will cast a whole new perspective on our metaphors, cultural assumptions, and the very identity of “self”, as described in this talk by cultural anthropologist Miriam Lueck Avery.”
Fun Fact: Some species of bacteria are social creatures. They act as a community in a number of ways and because of this community behavior, their lives and their chance of survivability in adverse conditions is improved. Myxococcus xanthus is one such bacteria. They, like us, require a population that works together to enhance survivability. Like us communities of M. xanthus act as a singular unit, especially when they sense adversity. For instance; they move together to find food. If food is scarce, they reorganize themselves to become a complex organism with specialized, differentiated organ structures that is much more adaptable. Like us, this division of labor and specialization in their collective body structure enhances survivability. Along with increased mobility, some of the bacteria specialize in making spores to ensure survival through extreme conditions. They also specialize their behaviors to survive environmental changes like temperature and radiation. When damage occurs to their outer membrane M. xanthus cells cooperate with each other to make repairs in a process called Outer Membrane Exchange (OME). These bacteria have discovered the power of community – that looking out for each other is a much better strategy than competing with each other. When it comes to survival. This community trait in bacteria is also a clue to understanding the evolutionary transition to multi-cellularity.
Fun Fact: Certain viruses embedded in our genome have been found to have a powerful influence on our development. In fact, if it were not for viruses, we would not be mammals, we would still be monotremes laying eggs. Another retrovirus embedded in our genome activates during the early stages of pregnancy and makes it possible for the early grouping of cells to implant in the uterus. The bottom line is, much of the structure we call human, or any other species for that matter, is based on the accumulation of cooperative nourishing relationships that have offered some adaptive advantage.
Michal Schwartz in her office at the Weizmann Institute, in the city of Rehovot. (Photograph by Kobi Wolf )
Some of us have a range of perception that rides imperceptibly on the polite fiction that the scientific community, as a whole, adopts new evidence with open arms. We sometimes ignore the fact that this community, like all communities, is also a social organ populated with people whose careers and reputations are hinged on the validity of certain ideas. Social acceptance is validity when it comes to social organs, not whether or not an idea is well grounded in evidence. For science, this presents a real problem because the social aspet and the goal of science can be at odds with each other.
The line is sometimes blurred between acceptance and validity and sometimes it is outright deliberately violated for motives other than the advancement of evidence based knowledge. To focus in on motives that beyond ego and social standing there are also some real world implications. Funding channels are greased by the reputations of the respected and this makes respect as much, or more, a currency in the scientific community as evidence. At times this social structural aspect of science is counter to the emergence of evidence as the spear tip of what the scientific community is ostensibly about. Although scientific convention is hard to break, especially in some areas, here is one story of a tenacious person, Michal Schwartz, who followed the evidence despite the adversity. From my perspective, people like these are worthy of celebration. They probably already have their fill of scorn.
Michal Schwartz, a professor of neuroimmunology at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, established the role of the immune system in brain health and repair. She is also author of the book, Neuroimmunity: A New Science That Will Revolutionize How We Keep our Brains Healthy and Young. Among the things this book addresses are potential improvements in the treatment for Alzheimer’s, dementia, spinal cord injuries, depression and glaucoma.
Read more about her in Anne Kingston’s article in Maclean’s
This is Episode 3 of “Things That Matter” which take on topics aimed at understanding ourselves, each other, and our world better. The topic is: What changes beliefs? What are they? How do they form? What steers the way we accept them? & How and why do some of us undergo dramatic transformations in our core belief structures? Can we change the way we are wired to see and believe the way we do, if so, how does that work?