Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Too Too Solid Flesh?

Maybe we're not so solid after all:

... there's a growing consensus among scientists that the relationship between us and our microbes is much more of a two-way street. With new technologies that allow scientists to better identify and study the organisms that live in and on us, we've become aware that bacteria, though tiny, are powerful chemical factories that fundamentally affect how the human body functions. They are not simply random squatters, but organized communities that evolve with us and are passed down from generation to generation. Through research that has blurred the boundary between medical and environmental microbiology, we're beginning to understand that because the human body constitutes their environment, these microbial communities have been forced to adapt to changes in our diets, health, and lifestyle choices. Yet they, in turn, are also part of our environments, and our bodies have adapted to them. Our dinner guests, it seems, have shaped the very path of human evolution...

Equally challenging, though in a different respect, will be changing long-held ideas about ourselves as independent individuals. How do we make sense of this suddenly crowded self? David Relman suggests that how well you come to terms with symbiosis "depends on how comfortable you are with not being alone." A body that is a habitat and a continuously evolving system is not something most of us consider; the sense of a singular, continuous self is a prerequisite for sanity, at least in Western psychology. A symbiotic perspective depends on a willingness to see yourself as the product of evolutionary timescales. After all, our cells carry an ancient stamp of symbiosis in the form of mitochondria. These energy-producing organelles are the vestiges of symbiotic bacteria that migrated into cells long ago. Even those parts of us we consider human are part bacterial. "In some ways, we're an amalgam and a continuously evolving collective," Relman says...

The rest of the article:

Read the whole thing.  It's a good one.

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