Scientific Sense Podcast

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Puppet show

The Unified Microbiome Initiative (UMI), as described in a recent article in Science, albeit belated, is a step in the right direction. As indicated by one of the founding members from the department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, it has been abundantly clear that microorganisms play a critical role in the welfare of humans. Perhaps, UMI should go a bit further – it is not just that microorganisms have a critical role in health and disease of humans in a tactical sense, they may be controlling how humans evolve, a true strategic imperative.

Intelligence has been ill defined. Ability to maximize utility for the system seems to move inversely to the complexity of the individual. Thus, humans, on top of the food chain, appear least competent to maximize societal utility. An alternative definition of intelligence is the ability of the individual to contribute to system welfare. Here, microorganisms are dominant. They have been here for 4 billion years and they will likely be here for another 4 billion before the Sun throws a temper tantrum and balloon to a red giant. Meanwhile, the “intelligent,” will likely perish in an asteroid impact within perhaps a few 100s of thousands of years.

More importantly, humans appear almost ignorant of the systemic effect imparted on them by microorganisms. The DNA provided by the parasites far surpasses any bits and pieces of the human DNA admitted to the ecosystem, some affectionately call, the human body. In this vast universe of organs and food digesting machinery, humans have been dancing to every whim of their visitors in the stomach and elsewhere. Diseases can be forecasted, health can be measured and even death can be predicted by a simple conversation with the Microbiome.

It is ironic that humans are simple puppets to those who have been dominating the Earth for so long.

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