We humans are part of a much larger biological parliament of relationships. It is this wide context of relationships that transcends “human” and includes the other life forms we live in the context of is what defines how we experience our life. It is the whole community, not any isolated part that defines what we call “us”. Injuries that impact this larger biological parliamentary body of relationships we are composed of can powerfully shape us over time. Minor injuries for instance can heal without any long term effects, but deeper kinds of injuries can echo for long periods. We commonly know that serious wounds to our physical body, or severe trauma experiences can reshape our brain structure and define how we respond to the world from that point forward,. What is not as commonly known is that injuries to the collection of microbes that live in and on us (called the microbiome) can also affect the way we see and respond to the world for a long time. In this case, research done in mice indicates that a mother under stress can result in injuries to the microbiome we depend on for many aspects of development. This can cause cognitive defects and anxiety in the child, and the effects of these injuries can persist all the way through adulthood.
Life is an interconnected tapestry of relationships that requires certain conditions to be cultivated in order to be able to realize it’s full potential. Recognizing these the widely dispersed cause and effect cues in this complex relationship field is the key to being able to shape them intentionally.
Click here to read further “Stress During Pregnancy Negatively Impacts Fetus, Microbiome may Explain Why“
All living things are mashups and mixes of genetic material that has been traded between replicators over untold eons. The human genome contains both viral and bacterial genes, and the amount of viral genetic material that has weedled its way inside our cells is equal to or exceeds the number of genes that make us peculiarly human.
The simplest replicators are not viruses but transposons, transposable genetic elements (TE) or retrotransposons which are DNA sequences that can change its sequence within the genome sometimes causing or reversing mutations and altering the cell’s genome size. These transposons have been found inside viruses that infect other viruses, which in turn affect amoebas that infect human beings. As one microbiologist put it, “I think it’s difficult to see where one organism begins and another one ends, we are only beginning to appreciate how intertwined these layers of organisms are in large flora and fauna.” [from “The Dexter of Parasites” on the Stuff to Blow Your Mind podcast for Nov 14, 2013, the podcast also discusses a species of wasp that lays its eggs inside caterpillars that have already been infected by wasp eggs, but the larva of this species of wasp not only eats the caterpillar but also the larva of the other wasp species whose eggs hatched earlier inside the caterpillar, basically hot parasite on parasite action]
We even know via experiments that a single strand of RNA (usually taken from a virus) can make more strands that then make more strands in test tubes filled with that strand & some basic building block molecules & a little zinc as a catalyst. So a single strand of RNA can self-replicate. They even put some RNA dissolving chemicals in one of those test tubes (a dilute amount of chemical that was poisonous to RNA) and then siphoned out of the tube any RNA strands that survived and placed them in a fresh test tube to produce more strands, and then slowly increased the dosage of the poison, and then took out any surviving RNA strands and placed them in a fresh test tube to make more RNA, etc., until an RNA strand that was more highly resistant to the poison was produced, demonstrating the naturally growing adaptability of a strand of RNA to poisonous chemicals over several generations and via a selection of surviving strands.
Now for viruses. Viruses are so adaptable they can have either RNA or DNA as their genetic material (in other words their nucleic acid may be single- or double-stranded). The entire infectious virus particle, called a virion, consists of nucleic acid covered by an outer shell of protein. The simplest viruses contain only enough RNA or DNA to encode 4 proteins. But the largest known virus, the Pandora salinus virus, is larger than many bacteria and contains more than 2,500 genes! Nor do viruses have proof reading mechanisms, so more mutations occur in them each generation than other replicators on earth. Also, giant viruses are known to be infected by much smaller viruses that invade them! Hot virus on virus action.
Viruses are the most abundant replicators on earth, with each drop of healthy sea water containing exponentially larger numbers of viruses than either bacteria (prokaryotes) or single-celled organisms (eukaryotes). Viruses attack other viruses, prokaryotes, eukaryotes, and the Archaea (single-celled organisms that were recently discovered to constitute their own separate kingdom of living things neither bacterial nor eukaryotic).
Now for bacteria. Most bacteria are larger than most viruses. Bacteria passively absorb genetic material they happen to run into. And they actively exchange packets of genetic material. This means they are filled with loads of odd genetic material at all times. And keep in mind how many countless viruses and bacteria are perishing every second on earth (never passing along their genetic material to future generations, while others are busy producing far more offspring than others) and you begin to realize just how much genetic shuffling and natural selecting has been going on for a long time. In fact for the majority of biological history on earth there was nothing but single-celled organisms on earth. Multicelluar organisms haven’t been around nearly as long as single-celled organisms. So however amazing the internal architecture of single-celled organisms, they had a long long time to develop that internal architecture–far longer than the time multi-cellular organism have been around.
After the appearance of mosquitoes & flies many viruses and bacteria have spread far more widely than they ever could have spread before. Pandemic-causing diseases, multi-cellular parasites, and even relatively benign viral and bacterial DNA thus have spread exponentially further since the appearance of mosquitoes and flies.
Thanks for the thorough comment. Much of what you outlined is contained in many of the posts in this blog as well, I share your perspective and I am glad there are more people who see the existing paradigm through which we view biological systems is strained, if not in need of replacement. The traditional physical lens through which we look at biology using such things as membranes, skin, or local genetics obscures the interconnected nature of biology and presents a difficulty in differentiating organisms in a meaningful way. This is why I propose a relational lens instead of a physical one as the means to differentiate biological bodies. From my perspective it makes more sense. Here’s a greatly paired down version of the theory: https://thewisdomoflife.wordpress.com/2014/09/26/ectosymbiotic-theory/