Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Real Dangers With Microbes & Viruses

Earth's Most Abundant Entities
Let's begin with the question not often asked:

"What are the estimated 1 x 1031 viruses and estimated 9.2 - 31.7 × 1029 microbes on Earth doing as their ecosystem is being destroyed around them?"

We have some clues around us with which to explore a very necessary answer --necessary because this epoch which we call the Anthropocene is the epoch of an ongoing Sixth Mass Extinction, killing things all around us.

A mass extinction which may not be like any of the past five mass extinctions, at least in the sense that it is happening slow enough for human observation - at least so far.

This gives more time for us to observe microbes, viruses, and even the macroscopic flora and fauna reacting to their changing environment.

And more to the point, it gives us an opportunity to observe those reactions to the ongoing extinctions:
"Geographers have projected temperature increases due to greenhouse gas emissions to reach a not-so-chilling conclusion: climate zones will shift and some climates will disappear completely by 2100. Tropical highlands and polar regions may be the first to disappear, and large swaths of the tropics and subtropics will reach even hotter temperatures. The study anticipates large climate changes worldwide." (Completely New Climates)
"Vegetation around the world is on the move, and climate change is the culprit, according to a new analysis of global vegetation shifts led by a University of California, Berkeley, ecologist in collaboration with researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

In a paper published June 7 in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography, researchers present evidence that over the past century, vegetation has been gradually moving toward the poles and up mountain slopes, where temperatures are cooler, as well as toward the equator, where rainfall is greater."(Major Vegetation Shifts, emphasis added)
"Narsaq’s largest employer, a shrimp factory, closed a few years ago after the crustaceans fled north to cooler water. Where once there were eight commercial fishing vessels, there is now one.

As a result, the population here, one of southern Greenland’s major towns, has been halved to 1,500 in just a decade. Suicides are up." (Greenland Changing Due To Warming, emphasis added)
Not too long ago I wondered what impact the ancient mass extinctions had on microbes and viruses (What Did The Mass Extinctions Do To Viruses and Microbes?).

Today, let's hypothesize, based on actual scientific observations, what the viruses and microbes might begin to do en masse.

First off, note that the flora and fauna of our planet are being diminished dramatically:
This latest edition of the Living Planet Report is not for the faint-hearted. One key point that jumps out and captures the overall picture is that the
Living Planet Index (LPI), which measures more than 10,000 representative populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish, has declined by 52 per cent since 1970. Put another way, in less than two human generations, population sizes of vertebrate species have dropped by half. These are the living forms that constitute the fabric of the ecosystems which sustain life on Earth – and the barometer of what we are doing to our own planet, our only home. We ignore their decline at our peril.
(Civilization Is Now On Suicide Watch - 4; cf. this PDF). That is like when half the canaries in the mine have died in a short span of time.

If we consider that certain types of viruses and microbes require or are naturally inclined to operate in or on specific plants and specific animals but not in or on others, we can hypothesize that as times get desperate for them, and then become catastrophic for them, they will radically morph (genetically and behaviourally).

And we can further hypothesize that they will have to attempt to migrate to different species that have not become extinct yet.

There are examples of that happening now:
"Maybe you take a Toxo-infected human and they start having a proclivity towards doing dumb-ass things that we should be innately averse to, like having your body hurdle through space at high G-forces. Maybe this is the same neurobiology. This is not to say that Toxo has evolved the need to get humans into cat stomachs. It's just sheer convergence. It's the same nuts and bolts neurobiology in us and in a rodent, and does the same thing.

On a certain level, this is a protozoan parasite that knows more about the neurobiology of anxiety and fear than 25,000 neuroscientists standing on each other's shoulders, and this is not a rare pattern. Look at the rabies virus; rabies knows more about aggression than we neuroscientists do. It knows how to make you rabid. It knows how to make you want to bite someone, and that saliva of yours contains rabies virus particles, passed on to another person.

The Toxo story is, for me, completely new terrain — totally cool, interesting stuff, just in terms of this individual problem. And maybe it's got something to do with treatments for phobias down the line or whatever it is to make it seem like anything more than just the coolest gee whiz thing possible. But no doubt it's also a tip of the iceberg of God knows what other parasitic stuff is going on out there. Even in the larger sense, God knows what other unseen realms of biology make our behavior far less autonomous than lots of folks would like to think." (The Germ Theory - of Government - 9, quoting Dr. Sapolsky)
"Chloroviruses (family Phycodnaviridae) are large DNA viruses known to infect certain eukaryotic green algae and have not been previously shown to infect humans or to be part of the human virome. We unexpectedly found sequences ... in ... DNA extracted from human ... samples. These samples were obtained by throat swabs of adults without a psychiatric disorder or serious physical illness who were participating in a study that included measures of cognitive functioning. The presence of ATCV-1 DNA was ... associated with a modest but statistically significant decrease in the performance on cognitive assessments of visual processing and visual motor speed." (Chlorovirus ATCV-1, emphasis added).
As Dr. Sapolsky pointed out, the viral and microbial ability to alter brain circuits is well beyond the ability of human brain surgeons.

We are also finding out that viruses and microbes are essential for human and other life forms:
Today, we are at the edge of a main turning point in understanding biological processes. The prevailing central dogma of molecular biology of the last 50 years is no more than a subordinate clause, relevant only to a small fraction of reality.
Now, the new renaissance of viruses is taking centre stage. Research data from the last decade indicate the important roles of viruses, both in the evolution of all life and as symbionts or co-evolutionary partners of host organisms. There is increasing evidence that all cellular life is colonized by exogenous and/or endogenous viruses in a non-lytic but persistent lifestyle. Viruses and viral parts form the most numerous genetic matter on this planet.
To understand their competence in natural genome editing, we have to look not only at their linguistic competence in editing and regulating correct nucleotide sequences, but also at their communicative competence, that is, how they interact with each other, how they compete within host organisms, how they symbiotically interact with host organisms to ward off
competing parasites, how they generate de novo sequences and what life strategies they share. Exactly these features are presented in this volume. Persistent infection lifestyles that do not harm hosts, and symbiotic, cooperating viral swarms, may be more successful in evolutionary terms for integrating advantageous phenotypes into host organisms than are “selfish” agents. Increasing empirical data about the abundance of viruses and virus-derived parts in the ecosphere of this planet, and their roles in the evolution and developmental processes of cellular life forms at the level of the microscopic processes of replication, transcription, translation, alternative splicing, RNA-editing, epigenetics and repair, raise a fundamental question concerning a crucial decision about how to define and explain life ...
(Viruses: Essential Agents of Life, at viii-ix; see also this). This we find out at a time when we are so paranoid about them that all we want to do is make war on them and quarantine those of us we think are the only ones exposed to them (Obola: Art Thou Dying Properly?).

They have existed on this planet for billions of years prior to humans, but we have yet to even figure out where the hell we are (You Are Here).

If we drive the virus and microbe world insane, as previous mass extinctions have done, there will be hell to pay.

It will take them a long time to recover from us, but they have the ability to do so (In Space or Buried Alive).

We won't make it without them ... but they will make it without us.

Professor who studies "social intelligence" of microbial entities gives lecture:


Anonymous said...

Great essay Dredd!

It seems 'we' aren't in the driver's seat of evolution but are macro players of micro-drivers.


Dredd said...

Thanks for inspiring it Tom

Randy said...

The IPCC report just out is the strongest yet. One environmentalist described it: "For scientists, conservative by nature, to use ‘serious, pervasive, and irreversible’ to describe the effects of climate falls just short of announcing that climate change will produce a zombie apocalypse plus random beheadings plus Ebola.". link

Randy said...

The beat goes on: "For many years, I lived in the South. I can still remember the sense of wonder that I felt in late October, my first year there, seeing that there were still garden plants blooming outside.

Fast forward 20 years, and the South has moved North. I live just a couple of hours from the border with Canada, and here it is, early November, and we have yet to have a single killing frost.

It’s been warm so long that next year’s spring flowers are now beginning to emerge, five to six months early.

The lavender is in bloom, a few daffodils are flowering here and there, and as you can see in this photograph, the forsythia bushes are showing their yellow, though underneath the yet-to-fall leaves of 2014.

The Republicans may have had an electoral victory, but the facts of climate change trump even that."


Dredd said...

Ebola edits RNA new study shows: (New Ebola Study) ...

Dredd said...

Scientists confirm that microbes have an impact on cognition. (Journal Nature "Gut–brain link grabs neuroscientists").