Tuesday, March 28, 2006

What are we?

When we think of ourselves as organisms, we think of ourselves as being unified, for instance as a eukaryotic organism. But an article in Live Science's "Bad Medicine" reminds us that we are quite different than we think we are. In particular, prokaryotic cells, mainly bacteria, in our body, outnumber our 'human' cells about 10:1. Nor are these bacteria just interlopers to be eliminated by antibiotics or scrubbed away by antibacterial soap.

image from NASA: http://weboflife.nasa.gov/slstp/blustein.htm

Our gut is lined with bacteria which are involved in digestion and in the production of key nutrients. Further by having our own friendly bacteria we are protected from pathogenic bacteria that would otherwise find our bodies great pickings. These friendly bacteria are symbiotic with us. They and we evolved together and the result is mutually beneficial to both us and the bacteria.

So in a sense we really are not a single organism but a whole community of organisms that need each other. This notion maybe unsettling to some, but I find it strangely comforting that the interdependence of organisms on the Earth is reflected in the interdependence of the wildly different organisms that comprise the community of our bodies.

Other links:

War on Bacteria is Wrongheaded.

Double Bonus: Bacteria Eat Pollution, Generate Electricity.

How to Live Long and Prosper: Get Dirty?

The Rise of Antibiotic Resistant Infections.

Bacteria-Animal Symbiosis Site.

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