Tag Archives: Systems biology

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.

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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/

Nature Echoes Nourish and Defend Behaviors on Many Scales

When our immune system sees a pathogen, something it perceives as harmful, it establishes ways to effectively neutralize or destroy that destructive agent. In doing this, it uses weapons (destructive agents), and vectors (vehicles) to carry the weapons it uses in defend to their appropriate location.

On a broader scale, this same defense of integrity through an “immune response strategy” may be what is going on at a larger scale in biological ecosystems. Since nature establishes defenses (things which destroy perceived pathogens) by establishing defensive weapons and looking for vectors to carry these destructive agents to their appropriate location in order to effect the “immune response”, why would we not expect to see this happening on different scales, from cell to body, to larger bodies of life?

The only difference in this relational dynamic that happens in a cell or single multicellular organisms that also may be happening in ecosystems may be the scale. This “immune response” may be also happening between larger bodies of life – bodies of life which transcend single organisms, and are constructed of networked metabolic structures that are stitched together through a vast array of species and subsystems within species – bodies of life that, although composed of many kinds of organisms, have a need to nourish itself, as well as protective skins and other defenses to protect itself, in addition to porous biological boundaries, the same way an individual cell or a larger organism does.

These larger bodies of life, which sometimes clash as a result of the existential debt nature demands for any coherent biological body – to nourish and protect itself, and to mount defenses against antagonists to that coherency. This may be the legend of the map that defines relationship landscape we see in biological ecosystems. It may also explain why, when there is less need for these defensive weapons to be carried to and fro to perceived pathogens in these larger bodies of life, that we also see these vectors less populated with these transgenic weapons, as we see in the case of mosquitoes in the rain forest, which tend to be less populated with the weapons of defense. Just a thought…

Disease-carrying mosquitoes rare in undisturbed tropical forests

From the article: “We found that fewer mosquito species known to carry disease-causing pathogens live in forested areas compared to disturbed ones… Mosquito species from altered forest sites are more likely to transmit disease than mosquitoes native to an area of mature tropical forest.”

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-08-disease-carrying-mosquitoes-rare-undisturbed-tropical.html

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”.

Powerful Influence from Small Changes

While this article is on *Brain Inflammation and Obesity* specifically, there seems to be a number of deeper implications if we apply a wide angle lens to the fact that certain infections, or microbiome populations, or traumas, etc. in the context of our complex biological system can shift behavioral expressions on more than physical scales. This influence on our relational landscape has a powerful influence on our experience of life. Extrapolated further we might begin to get a glimpse of how our evolution, history, culture and sense of identity might all be far more nebulous and arbitrary than we are used to believing.

https://www.labroots.com/trending/neuroscience/6586/brain-inflammation-obesity

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:

The Strategy Employed by Nature to get Things Done

When it comes to accomplishing tasks in the face of various forms of adversity and an environment that would need to be cultivated or persuaded to move toward a specific goal, one way of breaking down the various strategies that are possible to do this is a concept called destinationist. A destinationist strategy accepts that the current state of affairs is not desirable and that change is necessary, but rather than being a determinist, where the strategy appears to be “all or none”, where arms are flapped or folded folded and scowls are formed and baying at the moon over the current circumstances – how wrong everybody is and how the world is not right is the de facto strategy, the destinationist uses a strategy which accepts the reality of the current landscape, and attempts to move in the correct direction using realistic doable steps, perhaps not knowing if full success is possible or warranted. Nature appears to have this destinationist philosophy as it attempts to do things to move in a certain direction, even though the current solution may not be perfect. One example it the following: “while having diarrhoea might be a nightmare, not having it could be an even worse fate.”

Here is an article detailing how the body uses a destinationist strategy to deal with stomach issues that comes with some pain, but is best given the overall picture.

http://www.sciencealert.com/scientists-just-realised-the-purpose-of-diarrhoea-is-way-more-complicated-than-we-thought

The Battlefront between Order and Chaos

The level of depth perception coupled with the predatory behavioral inclination of cancer produces a number of intricate strategies to advance its agenda to make itself the center and overtake the carrying capacity of the community of cells in which it lives, destroying the community (and itself) in the process. Cancer is like a seditious saboteur bent on destroying a nourishing sustainable system of relationships. This predatory antagonistic bias toward the relational harmony an organism depends on and the concerted effort of that community of harmonic relationships to defend against these destructive agents is a clear illustration of the battlefront between order and chaos we see expressed throughout nature.

One of the more intricate destructive strategies employed by cancer is to cause a kind of black flag type operation, where it tricks healthy cells into producing false viral signals so that they look like they are the problem to the immune system. This diverts the healthy system’s immune response resources toward a false problem redirecting energy that might otherwise be directed at the cancer, enabling it to carry on its work of seizing more resources for itself at the expense of the larger biological community.

Here is an article detailing this process:

Researchers Now Know How Cancers Force Other Cells to Make Fake Viruses

http://www.sciencealert.com/researchers-now-know-how-cancers-force-other-cells-to-make-fake-viruses

The Social Life of Plants

Plants have any number of methods to communicate both internally and externally in order to keep themselves informed and respond to their environment and developmental needs. They use this vast array of capacities to negotiate their way toward maturity and reproduction among other things. As it turns out, plants have a rich social life. They are for instance able to forge relationships with various benefactors in the plant and animal kingdoms and coordinate their effort, including the recruitment of other creatures, to ward off antagonists. They sense, and think without the means of a brain as we understand brains, yet they have the capacity to perceive and respond on remarkable levels which we are only beginning to understand. Here is a documentary on some of the recently discovered attributes of plants.

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