Tag Archives: Developmental biology

Our Place as a Species – Where We Are, How We Got Here, and Where We’re Going

This is a take on our current place as a species – where we are, how we got here, and what our future might look like depending on how we negotiate our current situation:

We humans experience things that are geographically near to us differently than if the same incidents happen farther away. We are likely to connect with more emotional intensity to a starving hurt child on our doorstep than we would to tens of thousands suffering half a world away. Our geographic prejudice is understandable considering our biology has been optimized to function in the context of a local tribe. Our senses, including our mental processing faculties, are wired to respond to what we perceive as close to us – what parades in front of and stimulates multiple senses gets more emphasis than stimuli that affect only one or two senses. If we connect to a topic using abstractions, the effects on us are much less than if all our senses are engaged.

The necessity of survival for most of our past was heavily dependent on acting in service of the survival necessities of our local tribe. Without the benefit of the group against the elements, we would almost certainly perish. Because of the residual effects of rejection from the group, which almost certainly meant death for most of our past, to this day we tend to echo these long term embodied memories etched deeply into our biology. For instance; we fear public speaking more than death on average. Our developmental environment as a species shaped the emphasis our senses have, and by extension, the way we process the world – but the world has changed faster than our senses. This unequal progress has caused an out of sync relationship between our senses and the environment we now find ourselves in.

The senses that served us in the local tribe environment make us less equipped and more vulnerable to navigate the necessities of today’s world. As a species, we now have a technology lever that is so powerful we impact the whole Earth. Like a sailor that must get their “sea legs” to be able to walk steadily on a swaying ship, as a species we need to shift our emphasis to the necessities of existing in what is now a global tribe. Our common ground used to be the village, and in a sense it still is, but we now have an additional layer of necessity to contend with the whole Earth.

We were once more defined by the environment but we now have more capacity to also define it. When a child reaches the age of about two-and-a-half, the primary purpose of sleep changes from brain-building to brain maintenance and repair. This same type of developmental transition occurs on many scales. We are at the threshold of this kind of transition as a species. The same way there is a difference in skill sets between constructing a building and maintaining and using it; where scaffolding and tradesmen are replaced by occupants and caretakers, we need to make this transition, yet we are still hungover from the biological momentum of our heritage. Our future increasingly depends on stretching ourselves to fulfill the newly defined necessities of protecting and maintaining our new common ground, which no longer a patch of ground and perhaps a local body of water, it is the whole Earth.

As the size of our “tribes” grew from local bands that could be counted in the tens or hundreds to thousands, then millions and is now arguably the collective billions that inhabit the world, we have undergone a bewildering birthing process. In a comparatively short time (as biological development at a species level goes) the localized tribal wombs that once nourished small pockets of us have now become connected. We are now a collective body. We saturated the former small tribe womb and it can no longer contain us.

Because of our growth, we have been expelled from our former womb into a new, larger, more connected environment that demands different necessities of being. Like a newborn infant, we have to learn all the new skills to function effectively in this new dramatically expanded environment. Where we once had room to survive and grow using a greater emphasis on domination and exploitation, we now must do the harder task of cultivation and curation. We cannot look for more things to take, we must focus on strengthening the things that sustain us – things that return more value than they cost. This is not only where our opportunity exists, it is a necessary action to carry us forward.

We could once work cross purposes, competing against each other but our survival and thriving are now dependent more on the necessity to forge relationships like the organs in our body, nourishing and defending each other. This paradigm shift is because we have now saturated the environment. What got us here will not take us forward since we now swim in the same pond. Cultivating the environment we depend on to produce the necessary fruits of nourishment and as well as cultivating each other to our fullest potential is more necessary. We need specific mindsets and expertise to effectively navigate our more developed state of being. As has always been the case, we must either adapt to this new environmental reality or we will be either violently diminished back to the reduced carrying capacity of an environment or selected out for extinction.

If this analysis is correct:

What would you say we need to do differently on a personal and community scale?

Do you consider yourself a contributor to what will move us forward as a species?

What can we do better as individuals and as groups to help us get our “sea legs” to successfully navigate the necessities of current developmental place as a species?

The Purpose of Life is Written into the Structure of Biology

A skin cell does many vital jobs over the course of it’s life. It is arguably part of the more defensive oriented aspects of our biological economy. Each cell lives and dies, in part, to protect the whole body that gave birth to it and nourished it to maturity. Skin cells share a common legacy with all cells, to serve nourishing and, or defensive roles in relation to the community, whose integrity depends on enough of that shared value for the interdependent community to survive, and if there is a sufficient commitment to that end, to flourish.

The whole process takes around 6 weeks, from being “born”, to being pushed up through the layers in about 4 weeks, to dying and serving even in death for about two weeks as part of the stratum corneum. (Outer layer of skin) Other cells in our body live much longer, but all that are significant (not antagonistic to the body) are also aligned around the purpose of nourishing and defending the whole community which also nourishes and defends them.

My guess is this statement made through this biological economy, happens on many scales. It applies to biological organisms like us in reference to the ecological economy in which we live and on which we depend as a species. Finding and serving this role of constructive service is also the difference between a significant life and a meaningless life for us. It seems to depend on whether or not we found and played a role, no matter how small, in leaving something more constructive in our wake than the sacrifices that had to be made for us to be here at all.

This understanding and constructive expression of significance strikes me as the key to a satisfied life. We appear to be biologically wired to be satisfied by finding and expressing our nourishing and/or defensive role in the context of the community. I am pretty sure this is why we never meet anyone who is both malignantly selfish to the parasitic and predatory exclusion of others, and satisfied at the same time. Again, as far as I can tell, this move toward constructive significance seems to make the difference between an existence that is both to the self and frustrated in terms of purpose, and one that is more reflective of recognizing and fulfilling a role that supports the relationship economy on which we all depend for our present and our future. It is also the way evolution makes selective decisions about what will continue forward in time, and what will be selected out.

I could be missing something(s)

The Integumentary System, Part 1 – Skin Deep

Discovering Biological Friends and Foes

 

Not all viruses are dangerous. For instance; some are vital to how we function. The effects of endogenous retroviruses (those that stitch themselves into the human genome) are thought to have been essential for the evolutionary development of placental mammals as one example. Viruses can strategically trigger actions such as reproduction and, or go dormant depending on the biological climate at the time. The fact that cell replication in complex organisms like ourselves takes place and then goes dormant strategically may be due, at least in part, to the influence of viruses in the form of the genetic remnants of the traits that are now embedded in our genes. This, along with many other functions in human biology are parallel to, and could potentially be a result of, the influence of viral behaviors.

In addition to physiology, viruses are known to affect other behaviors such as those we categorize as psychological. The rabies virus is one well known virus that causes increased saliva flow and aggression in mammals. The borna disease virus can infect a number of animals, including humans. It has been known to cause hyperactivity, somnolence, depression and agitation. The point being; our experience as humans is built on a biological relationship economy that extends well beyond a stable set of genes. The relationship field from which we are composed can be cultivated, but it requires understanding how the whole process works. We have a long way to go, but we have made progress.

The spectrum of relationships in nature spans from constructive to destructive and that constructive vs. destructive trait depends on context. Some biological relationships contribute adaptive value, in these cases they are conserved. Viruses, like bacteria and so on can play destructive roles in the context of one system and a neutral or beneficial role in the context other systems. Like the role our various systems play from the respiratory system which carries nutrients in the form of oxygen to our cells, to the immune system which seeks out and destroys perceived antagonists, viruses also exist on this spectrum.. Some are lytic, in that they damage the relationship systems the host cell(s) depend on in such a way that the system is disrupted or destroyed. Understanding this destructive end of the biological spectrum, and how to remedy and or prevent these things from happening in the context of human systems is an important part of the further development of medicine. Here is a look at some of the work going on at the forefront of that discovery process:

𝗗𝗲𝘁𝗲𝗰𝘁𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗗𝗮𝗻𝗴𝗲𝗿𝗼𝘂𝘀 𝗟𝗮𝘁𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝗩𝗶𝗿𝘂𝘀𝗲𝘀

“…Most people on the planet are thought to carry the HHV-6 virus, which doesn’t cause symptoms in the majority of cases. Antibodies to the virus can be found in anywhere from 95 to 100 percent of healthy individuals, showing that most adults have become infected at some point. It’s thought to be harmless, but in people that have undergone organ transplant, take immunosuppressants, or get a chlamydia infection, the virus can become active… Two types of the virus exist; HHV-6B tends to infect infants and HHV-6A is usually asymptomatic. It does, however, integrate into cellular DNA, where it can remain for a lifetime. It has recently been suggested that the virus can reactivate and may play a role in a variety of diseases including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or Alzheimer’s… This work indicates that some prescriptions drugs might be able to reactivate HHV-6, leading to life-threatening danger for the patient. It may be very useful to identify these cases early.”

https://www.labroots.com/trending/microbiology/12741/detecting-dangerous-latent-viruses

Exploring the Origins of our Social Nature

AntDrinking

When we are in a stadium or a packed movie house experiencing something on the edge, do we feed on the mindset of the crowd? Do we lose our sense of individuality and become part of the group body? Can cultures incentivize the adoption of ideas; not because the ideas themselves are valid, but because they act as symbolic markers of inclusion? Do these ideas become the de facto currency of social inclusion, something we tend to adopt because we are biologically wired to seek inclusion as a primary drive?

Could this be how intense stress can act to spawn populist movements with fierce devotees that tend to act on more narrow and non nuanced principles? Could this natural tendency toward a desire for coherence make us convinced of an idea, not because of its validity, but because of our need to belong to a group for protection, especially under perceived stress? Is this what happens on differing scales of intensity as a function of our social nature?

Is this holding of ideas as a means of ritual expressions that cement social bonds something we may do without being consciously aware? Is it possible we are not in touch with because we’re lost in our own little words while actually being carried on biological currents that are far deeper and powerful?

This article might reveal a clue of the origins of this type of behavior we see at many levels:

𝗛𝗼𝘄 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘀𝗹𝗶𝗺𝗲 𝗺𝗼𝗹𝗱 𝗴𝗲𝘁𝘀 𝗼𝗿𝗴𝗮𝗻𝗶𝘇𝗲𝗱

“… a unicellular organism that may transition into a multicellular organism under stress, has just been found to have a tissue structure that was previously thought to exist only in more sophisticated animals. What’s more, two proteins that are needed by the slime mold to form this structure are similar to those that perform the same function in more sophistical animals.”

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110314172317.htm

The Art of Communication Has A Long Tradition

Collections of cells working together as a unified body, producing specialized behaviors that lend adaptive advantage on a group scale which include some sacrificial acts that benefit that larger community is not unique to complex multicellular organisms like ourselves. It is more of a relationship theme that that has been threaded into biology long before multicellularity as we know it emerged. It involves perceiving necessities, and communicating these necessities across a biological domain so that effective behavioral responses can take place. This community principle, complete with communication across a wide biological landscape has been present, and conserved throughout our biological history – a unified purpose among different biological entities that arose out of necessity long before multicellular (metazoic) creatures emerged. Here is an example of how this takes place among microbes:

How Microbes Communicate Over Long Distances

“…Percolation is familiar to anyone who brews coffee, and it helped researchers at the University of California San Diego understand how bacteria communicate with one another over long distances. Communities of bacteria, sometimes called biofilms, aren’t just a clump of bacterial cells. It seems they can send signals to one another with ion channels, promoting the survival of the community and protecting it from attacks. New findings on that communication have been reported in Cell Systems.”

 

Link to full article:

https://www.labroots.com/trending/microbiology/12216/microbes-communicate-distance

The Ties that Bind Us

There are any number of relationships, which transcend species lines, that are nonetheless vital for the proper functioning of the individual organisms within that biological relational field. These groups of organisms, or sometimes specific processes within these organisms, can form obligate (necessary) bonds that have the same characteristics as the relationships between the collection of vital organs in a singular body.
 
The relationships that define the integrity and continuing function of any single organism extends far beyond that singular organism’s membrane. Each organism exists by way of an extended network of mutually nourishing and defensive relationships that collectively nourish and defend the integrity of that community. This relational lens is far more useful to see the foundational principles of biology than is a reductionist, organism-centric lens.
 
The same community principle is what defines the strength and integrity of any complex adaptive system from a single cell, to organ, to the larger relationship economy we see expressed through ecosystems is also true of interpersonal relationships, families, groups, society and civilization itself. This is the underlying message communicated through the processes that define the biological economy – that forging mutualistic nourishing bonds, and by extension, a common defense, defines the level of adaptation any complex adaptive system will have to negotiate the environment.
 
Here is an example of one such inter-species relational bond that illustrates the type of bond that nourishes and protects a body of life, the same way organs in a multicellular creature relate to each other:
 
𝗡𝗲𝘄 𝗿𝗲𝗰𝗲𝗽𝘁𝗼𝗿 𝗶𝗻𝘃𝗼𝗹𝘃𝗲𝗱 𝗶𝗻 𝘀𝘆𝗺𝗯𝗶𝗼𝘀𝗶𝘀 𝗯𝗲𝘁𝘄𝗲𝗲𝗻 𝗹𝗲𝗴𝘂𝗺𝗲𝘀 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗻𝗶𝘁𝗿𝗼𝗴𝗲𝗻-𝗳𝗶𝘅𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗿𝗵𝗶𝘇𝗼𝗯𝗶𝗮 𝗶𝗱𝗲𝗻𝘁𝗶𝗳𝗶𝗲𝗱
 

Balance is the Key to Sustainable Systems

 

Balance is the key to sustainable systems. Even vital substances like water can become harmful when they are out of balance. Too much, or too little water, T too high or too low a temperature and so on is harmful. The correct range is key, and this range is determined by the environmental context. When it comes to complex biological systems like ourselves, many forms of balance come into play. How many and which type of cells, proteins and so on are part of the biological economy that has different players with different attributes, but all operate under the unified purpose of nourishing and defending the integrity of the whole system. This principle is echoed on many scales, for instance; we must seek our nourishment, but we must also defend against antagonists as a social community, as a species, and we must nourish and defend the planet if we are to continue. The point is, this nourish and defend in the context of the community principle is what defines a stable and sustainable system. But even these “nourish and defend” traits also must be in balance; proportional to the context of the environment, otherwise they too become harmful.

The same way we go into a highly reactive mode when stressed or faced with a perceived mortal threat – this fight or flight mode, where we try out behaviors that we would never consider in any other context goes into effect. It’s part of the innate systems embedded in our biological systems that go into effect as a means of defending against the loss of the integrity we depend on to remain coherent.

Our individual cells are equipped with these same defensive mechanisms on a smaller scale. When our cells are faced with stressors or mortal threats they also try out radical strategies in an attempt to hold on to integrity as well. These radical adaptive expressions that attempt to stem the tide of destruction can sometimes result in cancer, which produces a radical class of “survivalist” cells, highly focused on, and able to rapidly, adapt. Once they gain a foothold of fiercely adaptive cells in the context of our body, which requires a certain cooperative mutually nourishing relationship climate in order to function, it threatens the integrity we depend on at that larger biological community scale.

In other words, the cancer begins to exercise this highly adaptive “try any and everything adaptive strategy” as the cancerous cells begin to multiply. The cells begin operating as an adaptive agent in its own right, with dynamic adaptive aims that separate from the unified purpose of the body which spawned the cells. It is like a speciation within a single body. Rogue maundering raider cells pillaging the body to continue to exist, not recognizing that this tax will destroy the foundation on which they depend.

Because the hyper active highly adaptive capacity operates without regard to the integrity of the larger system in which the cells reside is why cancer cells, once they develop a communal relationship with one another, are so destructive, and why they are so difficult to eradicate once gain enough ground. Their capacity to adapt by developing radical strategies on the fly makes them a particularly foe to eradicate. In this case, lung cancer develops a digestive system.

Scientists Discover a Tiny Stomach Hidden Inside Lung Tumours, Because Cancer Is Changing

Cancer cells will do whatever it takes to survive.

https://www.sciencealert.com/scientists-discover-a-tiny-stomach-hidden-inside-lung-tumours-because-cancer-is-changing

Cultivating Adaptive Relationships: A Key to Survival

Relationships that can form between organisms that generate adaptive traits that would otherwise not exist, traits which are sometimes crucial in the context of the environmental conditions, can mean the difference between continuing forward through time and extinction. When these adaptive capabilities emerge in the context of environmental pressures, long term mutually beneficial relationships can then be conserved meaning maintained over time. This “forging of mutually beneficial relationships” that nourish or protect a local biological economy in the context of the environmental pressures is another form of what we call natural selection.

 

At one time these relationships formed by chance, and accumulated as a result of how they contributed to adaptation. Understanding how to cultivate these relationships, along with actively facilitating them where they can serve that adaptive purpose in the context of the larger body of life we live in and depend on in a constructive way is part of the technological lever we have as humans to influence our present and our future. Here is an example of this emerging application of evolution that may make a crucial difference in our continuing survival.

In-Groups and Out-Groups: A Biological Perspective

There is a certain fungus that is able to control certain ants to serve as a vehicle to further its own reproductive ends. The ant, in this case, dies in service of reproducing the fungus. There is also the case of the bacterial parasite T. Gondii which edits rodent brains to be attracted to felines so they get eaten, which helps the bacteria to enter its spawning grounds, which is in a feline gut. (it also edits other mammal brains in different ways) There are numerous cases of parasites and viruses that have the capacity to influence other organisms in service of their specific ends. It could be said that this is the norm in nature – competing influences that ultimately result in emergent behaviors that we typically identify as belonging to “an organism” but are in fact based on the collective property of many organisms.

When we consider that we are also a collection of various organisms that are influenced by each other, each with various agendas and various means of carrying that agenda out, we can begin to see that what we call our choices, and what we think of as our identity, may in fact be a byproduct of the parliamentary constellation of influences that rises from the pool of biological organisms that define us. We may be a reflection of the relationship field from which we are composed which extends beyond human genetics.

A recognition of this, at least from the parasitic sense, there is a now “theory” on the block called ; “The parasite-stress theory” which sees our personal and cultural identities through the lens of the parasitic creatures that influence us to service their various needs. In some real respects, it posits that our cultures in large part are an emergent property of the parasitic microbes that influence our behaviors.

The evidence for this idea is the strong correlation between the strength of parasites in the relationship field of the people in a given culture and their relative state of peace or conflict in addition to whether or not the culture is conformist or individualistic etc. In other words, what we see as culture may be a mirror effect of the relationship field between organisms.

According to this video; the parasite-stress theory may be a general theory of culture and sociality. In a nutshell it acknowledges the fact that the various strategies organisms have to influence other organisms to serve its purposes do have a role in defining this thing we call us. My thought is that it would be a more accurate lens if it looked at the full spectrum of organisms, some of which are on the mutually beneficial range of influence – commensal organisms having a stake in the success of the community it depends on – and doing what they can to offer benefits such as stability, defense, long life and so on. In other words, I think this theory is on to something, but is not yet complete. If we factored in the full spectrum of influences, (rather than just the parasitic segment) we would be able to understand that our opportunity for cultivating an intentional experience of life, rather than riding ignorantly on the winds of biological chance, is rooted in whether or not we intentionally tend the biological relationship field of which we are, on which we depend and that defines this thing we call “us” to be inclined toward the commensal, mutually beneficial segment of the spectrum of relationships.

The Biological Community Defines Our Experience of Life

If we unpack the implications of the fact that a single celled parasite like Toxoplasma gondii can develop a strategy to modify mammalian neurophysiology and behaviors to suit its own biological ends, we can begin to appreciate the fact that the community of friends and foes in our local biological relationship field set the tone for what we experience as life.

There is a full spectrum of relationships that is possible in any given biological community that can span the spectrum from obligate (necessary) mutualism to parasitic and predatory relationship dynamics where seizing the fruit produced by other organisms is the core behavioral property of the organism.

Depending on the biological community’s bias toward cooperation involving mutual nourishment and common defense, or toward parasitic and predatory relational dynamics, the organism based community will tend toward homeostasis (balance), or instability. This makes whether or not we learn about, and act to appropriately tend the many organisms from which our local biology is composed is a key factor in whether balance or imbalance (health or disease) will happen. It also plays a key role in defining our identity and shaping experience of life. This makes understanding and cultivating the biological relational system we are part of a critical factor in effectively steering our experience of life.

Here is an article outlining how a number of parasitic and predatory organisms press their agenda within the larger biological community. It is important to remember that there is a full spectrum of relationship possibilities, some of which bring nourishment, strength and health or defense of the integrity of the system against disruptive agents.

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/31536/title/Animal-Mind-Control/