Sunday, December 1, 2013

Microbial Languages: Rehabilitation of the Unseen--2

Are They Friend or Foe?
In the first post of this series (Microbial Languages: Rehabilitation of the Unseen) I postulated that perhaps there was a way to communicate with those microbes which are leading a pathogenic lifestyle, so as to induce modifications to their behavior.

Those modifications to their behavior would result in a change from a pathogen into a symbiotic microbe.

The result of their becoming a symbiont, a mutualistic microbe (which by definition means that it offers some benefit to its host --rather than being a damaging pathogen or parasite) would be a benefit to both.

A benefit to the host and to the new symbiont, which had previously been a pathogen or parasite endangering the host and perhaps even the used-to-be pathogen as well.

There could be peace and health to both that way, rather than war and disease.

Well, as it turns out there is a scientific paper which was published after that Ecocosmology Blog post, which indicates --whether in part or in whole-- that this dynamic has now been shown to have not only taken place, but shown to have taken place more often than what was expected:
Like pretty much all multi-cellular organisms, humans enjoy the benefits of helpful bacteria. (As you may have heard, there are more [bacterial cells] in the human body than [human cells].) These mutualistic microbes live within the body of a larger organism, and, like any good long-term houseguest, help out their hosts, while making a successful life for themselves. It’s a win-win situation for both parties.

Scientists still don’t understand exactly how these relationships began, however. To find out, a team of researchers from the University of California, Riverside, used protein markers to create a detailed phylogenic tree of life for 405 taxa from the Proteobacteria phylum—a diverse group that includes pathogens such as salmonella as well as both mutualistic and free-living species.

Those analyses revealed that mutualism in Proteobacteria independently evolved between 34 to 39 times, the researchers report in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.  The team was a bit surprised to find that this happened so frequently, inferring that evolution apparently views this lifestyle quite favorably.

Their results also show that mutualism most often arises in species that were originally parasites and pathogens.
(Smithsonian, emphasis added, links removed; paper is here). The statement "evolution apparently views this lifestyle quite favorably" should come as no surprise, assuming that a better chance at survival is a value of evolution.

This is a validation of the concept set forth in the first post of this series:
Living in harmony may also require us to do "remedial rehabilitation of the unseen", as the title of today's post suggests.

By that I mean to rehabilitate the microbes that have experienced past mass extinction events that utterly upended their world.

Which may have caused some of them to thereby end up going rogue and to then eventually become ill behaved parasites (Are Microbes The Origin of PTSD?).

Perhaps by learning to communicate with the rogues among them we will thereby be able to talk sense into some of the microbes that have become killers, maimers, or otherwise harmful?
(Microbial Languages: Rehabilitation of the Unseen). Who knows, perhaps "talking" to the pathogens as has been hypothesized will one day be the most efficient way to deal with diseases?

The previous post in this series is here.

This scientist be knowin' :