Archive for microbiome

Are Our Microbiomes Racial?

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 2, 2012 by Rob Wallace

Imagine…that all human bodies which exist looked alike, that on the other hand, different sets of characteristics seemed, as it were, to change their habitation among these bodies. Such a set of characteristics might be, say, mildness, together with a high pitched voice, and slow movements, or a choleric temperament, a deep voice, and jerky movements, and such like. Under such circumstances, although it would be possible to give the bodies names, we should perhaps be as little inclined to do so as we are to give names to the chairs of our dining-room set. On the other hand, it might be useful to give names to the sets of characteristics, and the use of these names would now roughly correspond to the personal names in our present language. –Ludwig Wittgenstein (1933-1934)

By an order of magnitude—10 to 1—most of the cells in our bodies aren’t even our own. We handle the indignity by assuming ourselves the ecological stage across which ‘our’ microorganismal visitors must mindlessly interact. Like we were gods looking down upon subjects so puny they didn’t know we existed.

As if our consciousness was synonymous with control. As if the quorum effects routinely documented in microbes couldn’t possibly include a distributed if insentient cognition, or, perhaps more disturbingly, in an ironic reversal, a sentience so unearthly we wouldn’t recognize it if it were staring us in the face.

Continue reading


Cave Man

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Organic agriculture with tags , , , , , , , , on April 21, 2012 by Rob Wallace

A new study reports several bacterial strains isolated from New Mexico’s Lechuguilla Cave, shut away for over four million years, are resistant to up to fourteen different commercially available antibiotics.

The implications are profound. At the risk of the overdramatic, they speak to the nature of our very existence, as well as, more practically, our relationship and responses to the pathogens that feed on us.

The horror of many a pathogen isn’t just that they can ‘think’ by an emergent cognition, or in how they outwit us by way of a near-ontological Hegelian dialectic, daily evolving resistance not only to every drug we’ve ever designed but every one we will design. It’s that, if the cave bacteria are any indication, they outfox us in the course of solving some other problem entirely.

Continue reading