Tag Archives: science

Biology Reveals Insights into Human Culture

This is an excellent documentary that illustrates how biological ecosystems find an equilibrium that is a suitable adaptive response to the environment. This means all the organisms that express nourishing and defense behaviors in a given ecosystem become specifically suited to the environment and each other. Islands are one of the places this biological balance is illustrated clearly; where the particulars of the environment along with the baseline biological ecosystem that inherited the island come to express a behavioral economy that is adaptive in that specific context. Islands with no large land predators may bring about flightless birds for instance because of the lack of need to fly away.

Christmas Island is an excellent illustration of how that biological equilibrium can be dramatically disrupted by a newcomer to the biological social economy. This disruption can expose weaknesses that are present because there was no need to build defenses against the strategies of the imported invader prior to its arrival. This is what drives biology’s own evolutionary expression of a “Game of Thrones” and may also be a good insight into the way the various human cultures evolved throughout the world – a reflection of populations finding equilibrium with the environment, reflecting its nature, coupled with the periodic need to adapt to “invaders” as we began to cross pollinate as a result of things like trade, climate shifts and so on, leading to the human version of “Game of Thrones”.

How Smell Shapes Our Lives

There is no thing that we do on a macro scale that does not exist on a micro scale. Recurring echoes of self similarity with a blend of melodic dissonance is what makes up the magnificent symphony of structure we call biology. Smell is no exception:

Cultivation Vs Domination

Science is increasingly recognizing that nature presents the most effective strategy as cultivation rather than domination – that the target is to cultivate a relationship field that attends to nourishing and protecting a community bound together with mutually beneficial ties as well as a willingness to defend the fruits that come from that community activity. We would do well to begin to apply this same cultivation vs domination principle to all aspects of life, from farming to interpersonal relationships to business and government, since our common ground is Earth.

From the article: “We have long believed that “good” immune cells recognise and defend against “bad” invaders. That’s why a large proportion of medicine has been directed at killing microbial enemies and conquering microbial infections.

This militaristic understanding of immunity reflected the culture of the 20th century, which was dominated by nation building and world wars between “us” and “them.” …a radical shift in understanding the relationship between humans and microorganisms occurred with the discovery that only 50% of the cells in our bodies are human. The rest are microbes, such as bacteria, yeasts (members of the fungus family), viruses, and even insects. Together, these make up the microbiome… Because we have evolved with microorganisms inside us, we now have specialised communities in our guts, on our skin, and in our mouths. Our microbes are understood to be so critical to our existence”

For more information: https://theconversation.com/essays-on-health-microbes-arent-the-enemy-theyre-a-big-part-of-who-we-are-79116

The Relationship Economy that Defines a Coherent Body of Life

The article link below describes how a single species of gut bacteria can reverse autism-related social behavior in mice.

The fact that a single organism can have so much influence on mouse behavior and experience is also a glimpse not only into the powerful biological drivers that result in what all organisms experience as life, but indeed what life experience is founded on. Our behaviors and experience, including whether and how much we are social, as well as whether or not we remain a coherent part of the biological economy over time and so on are based on the relational climate that forms as a result of a parliament of organisms and environmental conditions which together operate as a coherent body which influence behaviors and experience on multiple scales.

The notion that we are an individual species, defined by our local genetics and completely separate entities from other species is dissolving as a useful means to clearly define biology. A lens that sees biology as a relational economy that transcends our notions of individual species – one that renders the image that a coherent biological body consisting of organisms of many different genetic makeups networked together in diverse ways, forming a meta body, complete with a coherent integrated metabolism and the defense mechanisms to defend that integrity in the face of antagonists – is a more appropriate lens.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160616140723.htm

Phylosymbiosis: Cooperative Relationships as a Matter of Survival

 

It has become increasingly apparent that larger organisms like ourselves cannot live alone. A certain community of bacterial associates must live in, and on a host organism. This relationship is sometimes essential for the host’s well being as well as that of the the microorganisms. Different animals have a specific array of microorganisms that function in roles that offer adaptive advantage in the context of the environment. These roles include digestion, protection from destructive pathogens and so on. They have also been shown to play roles in reproduction and sociality among other things.

This relationship between host and microbial organisms should perhaps come as no surprise because complex organisms such as ourselves arose from cooperative ties between microorganisms and viral components. We are, from a certain perspective, a microbial community ourselves as we are composed of a community of like cells, differentiated slightly into various organ roles that operate as a community. This same principle applies to the more fluid, extended microbial community in the environment.

How this community of relationships forms and develops between a host and the microbiome has been the focus of recent studies on the cutting edge of evolutionary biology. It appears that the relationship between host an microbiome can and does shape the evolutionary path of this collective “community”. Each organism plays a role as a voice in a choir, and the persistent demands of the environment is the choirmaster. The fact that there are severe fitness disadvantages in hosts that don’t have an appropriate blend of microorganism companions is an indication of how crucial this cooperative communal role is to develop. Together, the host and all the corresponding microorganisms that live in together are called a metaorganism.

The host organism actively cultivates a climate to identify microbial friends from enemies. One of the things that emerged in terms of understanding how these communal relationships are forged is that the host’s is able to recognize phylogenic similarities between itself and the various microbial genomes. It does so using its immune system as the sensor to differentiate friend from foe. In other words; the host’s genotype is in part responsible for the composition of microbiota which the metaorganism consists of. The more distantly related species, the less preferred it is. Of particular note is the fact that self similarity in the collective genomes between host and microbe are tied to their inclination to service each other’s needs. Phylogenetic similarity is what appears to incline them to confer advantage toward each other. In other words, the more similar, the more likely their behaviors will center on cooperation.

The host’s immune system is the vehicle that cultivates specific relationships from the environmental microbiome. It is this recapitulation of host phylogeny by microbiota that is called phylosymbiotic relationship. Over time, this relationship field in the metaorganism inclines toward a host-bacterial homeostasis that collectively offers adaptive advantages and in some cases, obligate (necessary) relationships, without which the communal social system would break down.

For more on this, see Seth Bordenstein’s talk on the topic.

On Bacterial Intelligence And Sociality

Although Eshel-Ben Jacob Died in June of 2015, during his life he was a leader in the theory of self-organization and pattern formation in open systems. He extended this work to include adaptive complex systems and biocomplexity. He studed bacterial self-organization, through a lens that holds bacteria the key or seminal force that can lead to our understanding how larger biological systems work, incluging ourselves.

Microbes are often thought of as reactive participants in the scheme of life. Mindlessly chewing away on food they happen to stumble on without much in the way of insight about the future, how they fit in to the larger biological community, or any other kind of depth perception necessary to navigate with competency toward a more certain future in a sometimes antagonistic and ever changing world, but this is simply not so according discoveries made by Eshel-Ben Jacob. He discovered, among other things that they exhibit population control, have an understanding of the need for biological diversity in order to deal effectively with changing environments, in addition to a powerful range of adaptive tools to negotiate the environment. As it turns out, bacteria may not be simple in any respect, they may merely express their intelligence and social life in different ways, on different scales than we do. This thought provoking lecture, given at google, is well worth a listen.

Mate Selection Expressed on a Molecular Scale

The level of detail through which behaviors are expressed that are aligned with ensuring adaptive advantage extends to the microscopic. In this case a strategy for sexual selection involves the production of some kind of protein or chemical in the ovarian fluid of ocellated wrasses which helps define the acceptance or rejection of sperm based on whether the male that emitted it will be more inclined to tend the nest or not. The idea being that those males more fit to carry on the species will be more likely to breed, enabling the species a better chance to continue forward.

From the article: “Female ocellated wrasses prefer males that build nests and take care of the fertilized eggs as they develop. But there are other types of males that do not provide parental care and compete to fertilize the eggs a female lays in the nest prepared by a nesting male. Small “sneaker” males hang out around the nest and dart in to release large amounts of sperm when a female is spawning. The females, however, seem to have found a way to thwart the sneaker males by giving an advantage to the nesting male’s sperm.”

Among the questions that might ride in the undercurrents of such a fantastically coordinated biological process if we anthropomorphize the situation a bit is; How does the female know that the chemical signature of “sneaker” males is different than the nesters? How was she able to translate this information into a coordinated process to produce a chemical in response that is able to  differentiate between sneakers and nesters and select based on criteria that is advantageous to the female? Regardless of whether or not these are legitimate lines of questioning, the behavioral dynamics expressed through the relational field we call biology certainly is intricate, and whether or not these are the right questions is not as important as recognizing that there is room for questions – plenty of food to feed a passionate curiosity.

To read the full article in Science Daily Click Here

The Evolution of Behaviors

Behaviorism Will Peck For Food

In 1948, B. F. Skinner published a landmark paper illustrating how animals develop superstition. Basically, if an animal is fed at irregular intervals it associates whatever behaviors it happened to be doing right before receiving food with receiving food. After that, it thinks those behaviors are what brings the food. It develops a “superstitious connection” between the unrelated behavior and the food.

This understanding of how connections are developed has been the foundation of behavioral conditioning and behavioral psychology since its discovery. This capacity for false (or true) association based on whatever happens to coincide at a particualr time is stitched onto our perception faculties and consequently, our psychology. People given mild stimulants unbeknownst to them have been recorded associating the effects of the stimulant with the things happening in their local happenings for instance. It is also important to emphasize that while the perception faculties sometimes falsely associate correlations, sometimes these factors are actually causal, and understanding this causal connection can lead to a survival advantage. This is probably why the capacity is seated in our biological makeup to begin with.

Our biological perception tendency to weave coincidental happenings into causal connections (which may be true or untrue) has an enormous implication in terms of understanding ourselves, our culture, our history, and the level of trust we can place on our individual certainties if we apply the information appropriately. It easily explains the reason medicine was stagnated for centuries by such notions as humors. It explains the cultural prevalence and behaviors that flow from beliefs in omens, and may be the foundation for all the world’s superstitions and religions. It may also be a strong if not causal factor in some disorders such as O.C.D. and other destructive compulsive behaviors. It has strong implications on our sociality because of the underlying message of acceptance or rejection we get for adopting certain ideas or behaviors as well. This may also be the foundation of bird song and language itself. The list goes on…

Behaviorism Will Press Lever For Food

While this symbolic association built into our perception faculties has definite survival value in that it is rooted in searching for a cause in order to more intentionally choose specific behaviors that lead toward survival, it is also true that these faculties are not entirely accurate, and come with a downside. This aspect of evolutionary biology, where a benefit comes with a potential downside is not unusual in the least. Evolution in peppered with these cost/benefit aspects, and much of who and what we are is a product of those competing priorities

 

Self Replicating Proteins May be a Clue to Life Origins

The proteins in our body must not only be the right configuration, but the right shape. Prions are misfolded proteins that are also self replicating which can cause biological systems to malfunction such as forming holes in the brain called spongiform encephalitis (Mad Cow disease or Crutchfield Jacobs disease in humans).

Prions can spread from one organism to another by mouth, blood or contaminated surfaces. Like infectious viruses, prions can also have variants, or strains, that produce different effects, not all of which are harmful. Unlike the rest of biologically active structures, prions don’t have information-storage molecules like DNA or RNA, yet they are able to copy and transmit biological information. This has strained the idea that all replication of proteins must come from an information coding system like DNA or RNA. While it does put some strain on the validity of our conventional interpretations of how things happen in evolution and biology (that proteins are “only” manufactured from DNA to RNA and then to final form as protein), it may also be a clue to our origins. (Note* retroviruses are also known to violate this rule, called the central dogma of molecular biology)

Some researchers have proposed that it may be possible, due to the ease with which amino acids and peptides can be produced by abiotic means; that the first protocells may have been proteins only encapsulated in lipid membranes. (For more information look up Fox’s protein microspheres). These microspheres may have only acquired nucleic acids as an adaptation later on as a means information storage related to reproduction.

In other words; it is thought that proteins may have reproduced themselves by some autocatalytic process at first, like that which we see in prions today. Evidence for this can be seen in the fact that there are still noncoded peptides in certain bacteria to this day (See Day, 1979, p. 369). Is it possible that proteins began working in mutually beneficial symbiotic relation to each other and some of which eventually specialized in information storage and protein synthesis” This type of relationship dynamic is known to have happened in the case of mitochondria and chloroplasts, Eukaryotes are thought to originated as symbiotic prokaryote organisms that fused into obligate (necessary-inseparable) form.

Is it possible that RNA and DNA were adaptive strategies in service of prions? Is the behavior of prions a clue to our origins? Time may tell.

Here’s more on Prions:

Biology Is Social All the Way to the Core

 

Social psychology studies social interactions, including their origins and their effects on the individual. It focuses on the relationship between the mental structures within the individual and the social structures which that individual encounters and interacts with, and how that shapes the individual and the wider social landscape. One of the keys to understanding this relationship dynamic is in looking at the multiple flows on influence back and forth that define the overall nature of the entire relationship system. This complex relational dance brings up the intersection of multiple influences from which our experience and behaviors emerge. This same principle is now beginning to be understood on a biological level as we see the influence of various organisms on each other over time can shape our experience, our individual developmental paths and our evolution. A long history of just such a relationship dynamic can be witnessed by examining certain gut microbes that are thought to have been around humans since before humans were humans. They currently play powerful roles in steering the early development of our intestines, in training our immune systems to negotiate the “shark” infested waters they will have to contend with over a lifetime, and possibly affecting our moods and behaviors, including social behaviors, in many other ways.

So tightly tied together is this biological social dance that there is now genetic evidence that certain bacteria split into distinct strains at about the same times as their hosts split into distinct species, demonstrating the influence of organisms on each other in the evolutionary development story.

From a certain perspective, what we think of as human is composed of a parliament of biological bodies that together form a relationship system that defines who and what we are as “individuals” through a vast and intertwined collection of interdependent influences, and what could be more social than that?

For a more refined glimpse at a segment of the social relationship between gut microbes and humans, click here. From the article:

“Some of the bacteria in our guts were passed down over millions of years, since before we were human, suggesting that evolution plays a larger role than previously known in people’s intestinal-microbe makeup… our gut microbes, which we could get from many sources in the environment, have actually been co-evolving inside us for such a long time…  scientists found genetic evidence that the bacteria split into distinct strains at about the same times as their hosts were splitting into distinct species… One… happened about 15.6 million years ago as the gorilla lineage diverged from the other hominids. The other… about 5.3 million years ago as the human lineage separated from the lineage leading to chimps and bonobos.

Again Read more on this at: http://phys.org/news/2016-07-bacteria-human-gut.html