Why is Natural Selection Important? It’s Role in Evolutionary Development

Why is natural selection important?I had recently been asked to comment on a dialogue between two evolutionary biologists as they debated the role of natural selection in evolution. Both assumed that that there was no valid alternative. Neither seemed to grasp that there are actually are two differing conditions in which its influence might be fully evaluated.

Any assessment of the importance of natural selection must take into account both of these separable components.

What Has Been Believed About Evolution Until Now?

Several generations of scientists have believed that Natural Selection can be fairly well summarized as a narrative of “survival of the fittest“. In modern terms, different variations of organisms arise through tiny random genetic mutations. Necessarily, the process is very gradual, its effects are cumulative and the relevant action is on the entire organism that can be seen with your eyes.

So What’s Wrong With The Current Theory Of Natural Selection?

To be a satisfactory explanatory theory, natural selection must dominate two different biological processes. One of these is concerned with how complex novelties develop to account for the origin of species through reproductive isolation. The other relates to the means by which any species, once established, might thrive and continually adjust within a highly competitive environmental landscape. In any examining the former case, that is, considering natural selection as an agency of novelty or speciation, natural selection that is defined by fitness becomes a tautology or circular argument.

Darwin describes natural selection as the “preservation of favorable variations and the rejection of injurious variations…” The favorable ones then enhance reproductive success. Yet, the definition of fitness is, in turn, exactly defined as reproductive success. What is preserved and reproduces best is always defined as ‘fit’ and ‘fitness’ is always defined by reproductive success. Do you see the circular argument here? By this linkage, ‘preservation’ and ‘favorable ‘ and ‘reproductive success’ are identities  by mutual definition and yield a self-fulfilling circle. So, as a  rational, there is nothing here that explains how novelty arises.

Natural Selection Relates To Breeding

When it comes to understanding  the  maintenance of an established species, natural selection is not circular reasoning. It is an explanatory mechanism for observations that relate to breeding. For example, with Darwin’s finches, it is true that certain beak shapes can cope with some nuts better than other beak shapes. Therefore, a linkage between preferential survival frequencies and one type of phenotype, like a beak shape, can be assessed as particularly suited for the environment in which that bird must exist. As a filter of existing traits that can come out of a preexisting genetic code, natural selection offers descriptive opportunities. It is important to remember that selection does not produce the variation of beak shapes. That has to come first from something else. To modern Darwinists, this occurs through random genetic mutations. The exact problem is that although random genetic variation in a genome does occur, there is nowhere near enough to account for evolution. We have learned that there simply are too robust repair mechanisms to account for evolutionary change as a primary driver. So,  no matter how appealing the theory, our actual observations indicate that is just is not so.  Consequently, the current theory of natural selection has significant limitations in explaining a large aspect of evolutionary development.

What Can Be Offered As An Alternative Theory To Natural Selection Then?

In our present era, there is an alternative approach to evolutionary development that has much greater explanatory power. This is new path is termed Cognition-Based Evolution (CBE). When compared to Darwinism, this new narrative starts from a new place, uses a different mechanism to account for evolutionary change and novelty, and offers a new evolutionary endpoint that conforms to our contemporary understanding of complex organisms.

What Is The New Starting Point?

Modern research has shown that all living things and all cells are cognitive. That means that they can communicate, are aware of their environment, and can solve very basic problems at their scale. This means that cells are aware of environment shifts.

How Can Evolution Proceed Based On This New Starting Point?

Why Is Natural Selection Important - Alternative Evolution Theory Diagram Examples

Alternative Evolution Theory/Natural Selection Diagram

Since all cells are aware of their surroundings and want to maintain their own optimum state, they cooperate and collaborate with other to achieve it. This is what the cells in our bodies are doing all the time. Even though we may regard cells as simple, this process is highly sophisticated. In fact, it is complex enough to be considered a form natural cellular engineering that shares commonalities with our own human forms of engineering. Through this means that requires mutual collaboration and competition, cells build vast cellular ecologies. This is what makes up all the tissues in our bodies.

Cells go about this activity in just the same way that humans collaborate and compete to build cities. It is obvious to us that there is nothing about a human being that looks like a city. For cells, it is the same. The cellular ecologies that make up our forms are their expression of building a city, only,  instead of iron, or steel, or wood, they use biological materials. The purpose of all this action is to continuously adjust to environmental stresses and survive. In a nutshell, this is the way that cells solve problems.

Cellular Adaptation

Cellular Adaptation In Natural Selection Theory - Alternative Theory Of Evolution

Cellular Adaptation In Natural Selection

If their attempt to solve problems as an ecological team is a failure, then it is abandoned at the cellular level. Natural selection operates to pass along these good adaptations as useful changes in cell populations. The difference from Darwinism is stark. Evolution proceeds by bubbling up from the actions of cells to solve their environmental problems and not from random genetic variations. When they produce a solution or its variations, natural selection filters out those results. Only the good solutions survive. Since all these cells are acting to solve problems, the solutions are not random.

What Is That Different Endpoint?

Important research in the last few years has revealed a startling reality about ourselves. Although we think of ourselves as a singular organism, nature sees us very differently. Our actual composition is a complex mixture of life that includes a vast array of microbes and our own personal cells. These microbial partners outnumber our own personals cells by a factor of 10 to 1.

Microbial Cells Outnumber Human Cells 10 to 1

Microbial Cells Outnumber Human Cells 10 to 1

This may be hard to accept, since we feel like we are a single being, but that is just an illusion, a trick that biology plays on us. And these microbes, are not just hanger’s on. Instead, our partnership with them forms a vital aspect of our nutrition, immune systems, metabolism, nervous system and development.  Together, these microbes and our own cells constitute the partnerships that make the ecological teams.  And it is those teams, in huge numbers, all linked together that make  us what we are. This combined organism is called a holobiont or hologenome, and every organism you can see with your eyes is just such a thing. There are no exceptions.

Conclusion: A Better Solution To The Perplexities Of Evolutionary Development

New research is revealing an enormous amount of information that permits a conclusive alternative theory to Darwinism. Compared to decades ago, we now know that all cells and living things are cognitive. All living things use information and communicate it to thrive and survive. They exchange this information to solve problems caused by an environment that always has dynamic shifts. The most effective manner in which our personal cells and our companion microbes can solve these environmental problems is by joining together in vast mixed cellular ecologies. When linked together, these ecologies collaborate, cooperate and compete to produce results that produce that organisms that we can see with our eyes.  We, and “endless forms most beautiful” are its yield. Have questions or comments? Please leave them below.


THE BOOK

The Microcosm Within offers intriguing and profound answers by exploring our extraordinary world of cellular consciousness, connections and collaboration. Current research has unexpectedly revealed that all cells and microbes have elemental cognition and a previously unappreciated capacity for discrimination and awareness. From these faculties, cooperative natural genetic engineering is enabled; and it is from this starting point that biological complexity evolves.  The Microcosm Within illuminates how immunological factors dominate evolution and extinction. Biology and evolutionary  theory will never be the same.

The Microcosm Within

amazon-icon
barnesAndNobleIcon

Are You Smarter Than a Reptile

 

Are You Smarter Than a Reptile?

                                                              William B. Miller, Jr. M.D.

 

Are you smarter than a reptile? In many respects, you certainly are. After all, no reptile is going to read this article. However, our clearly superior intellectual abilities for certain skills has seduced us towards a dismissive attitude towards the surprisingly deep and broad range of analytical gifts of our companion creatures. A growing body of research now indicates that other animals of all sizes and varieties are highly intelligent problem solvers within their own realms. After all, their cognitive skills have enabled them to successfully survive for eons and that may not necessarily prove to be true of we humans. Consider termites. They are strikingly social animals and have constructed elaborate societies for 200 million years. They engage in a primitive sort of agriculture, farming varieties of fungus for food. As individuals, they demonstrate remarkable intelligence and an even more surprising group intelligence that enables complicated feats of soil engineering in a diverse range of environments. Within their complex societal structure, termites divide labor between varied types of specialized workers, for example, infant care, manual labor, reproduction or soldiers for the defense of the colony. All of this proceeds via highly evolved and complex patterns of communication and signaling.Individual bees are intelligent and can even solve problems that are mathematically based. For example, they effectively decide the Traveling Salesman dilemma of optimizing the most efficient route to visit large numbers of locations in a single day. Bees communicate in a rich symbolic non-verbal language that enables them to transmit abstract concepts to others such as the location of particular flowers over large distances based on angles of the sun. They even seem to understand some rudimentary concepts of medical care utilizing medications within their hives. For example, honeybees colonies have been demonstrated to self medicate with plant resin to combat fungal infections. What about ants. They’re no slouches. They can navigate long distances to find food and can communicate its location to others with facility. As individuals, they can seek family members, memorize multiple alternate locations and can integrate a large number sources of information. They are even altruistic and will help other ants in distress. Modern research is teaching that intelligence is not directly linked to brain volume. All sizes can be demonstrate high intelligence. Birds have small brains but are terrific problem solvers. They are highly cooperative and exhibit a wide range of highly intelligent behaviors. For example, they use vocal learning. Their songs are a complex language. Did you realize that they give lifelong names to their young? They are even known to mourn the loss of others. Birds also have a gyroscopic sense of geography and can store seeds in thousands of places that they can remember. Can we do that? Perhaps you suppose that only humans are capable of understanding analogies. However, crows can use analogies to solve higher order tasks. They understand sharing, can use rudimentary arithmetic and can invent meanings for words. Cockatoos can solve puzzles with at least 5 steps. They can even keep time to music.So perhaps lizards aren’t smart. How unfair if you think so. Lizards are social animals with rich societies and hierarchies. They can bond, recognize family members, and care for children. Some iguanas demonstrate counting abilities and can rapidly learn techniques that they haven’t seen in the wild.Might fish be intellectually impaired? In fact, fish lead complex social lives and are highly intelligent. Predator fish species can cooperate together and even with other species by utilizing head motions and posturing to cooperate to capture elusive prey. They understand concepts of negotiated agreements of partnership and, just like humans, sometimes cheat. In a comparison of the intellectual capacity of primates and fish, who do you think should win? In a food test comparing fish with monkeys, chimpanzees and orangutans, it was the fish that proved more adept at learning the advantages of certain patterns of food choices and were faster at it. And individual fish have personalities. Timid ones stay timid and aggressive ones remain bold. They also demonstrate individually distinguishable levels of curiosity and social ability. Fish can play, have excellent memories and perform complex courtship rituals. And Tusk fish even use tools to open shells for food, an act of intellect which used to be considered as exclusive to humans but is now known to be widely distributed among species. Certainly then, we must be much smarter than microbes. However, if intelligence is construed as using information to solve problems to successfully reproduce and survive in hostile environments, then they might be considered among the most intelligent. Some bacterial strains and even some viruses have survived essentially unchanged in any significant manner for hundreds of millions of years, in part this by using elaborate signaling patterns for communication among themselves and others. So what might we make of this widely distributed world wide intelligence than had been previously understood? First, our intelligence might be of a unique kind, but it is not the only intelligence of consequence on this planet. Ours is just different and suited to the types of problems that we need to solve. We have vastly underestimated the intelligence, feelings and complexity of the inner lives of our companion creatures on this planet. The implications are profound for our relationship towards them and our stewardship of the planet we share. Additionally, the ubiquity of refined intelligence requires a thorough re-examination of our evolutionary narrative. Intelligence exists at every scope and scale underscores every aspect of evolutionary development. This emerging understanding teaches us that all cognitive ability starts at the cellular level. All complex creatures must in turn be viewed as integrated collections of intelligent cells,……..vast collaboratives of cellular intelligence, …. we in our human package, and they in theirs. Our form of collective intelligence may be privileged compared to others, but it is not different in its essence. As a species, we would do well to grasp this vital truth.

 

The Expanded Role of Viruses in Human Health

Microscopic view of the Ebola virusOur traditional view of viruses has been narrowly perceived to that their sole role is as organic aggressors. Certainly, their visible effect upon our human history, at least until now, has only been understood as the source of myriad scourges throughout human history. Viral epidemics have accounted for an enormous number of deaths including measles, smallpox, chickenpox, influenza, dengue, and, more recently, AIDS and Ebola. However, recent studies have expanded our understanding of other consequential effects that viruses have on us as humans. Previous studies have emphasized the importance of bacteria to our metabolism, immune system and overall health. This bacterial cooperation between our general cellular selves and our microbial partners has been termed our microbiome. Now, there is emerging data about a coexistent virome. This is the collection of viruses that play an intrinsic part in our vast microbial partnership and enables us to survive as complex organisms.

New information is revealing that certain viruses are essential for our well-being. For instance, the commons murine norovirus has been demonstrated to help repair inflamed intestinal tissue in mice. It helps restore immune defenses when the microbial component of our immune systems is damaged by antibiotic therapy. In research studies, mice that have their microbiome artificially depleted are protected from damage if pre-treated with murine norovirus.

The symbiotic contribution of commercial bacteria is well known. What has remained obscured until now is the essential contribution that eukaryotic viruses have on our homeostatic mechanisms. This refers to the complex biochemical and immunological checks and balances that all complex organisms display. A recent study confirms and further defines these deep interlocking relationships. The presence of murine norovirus among gut flora restores intestinal morphology and lymphocyte function. Research has confirmed that these effects are profound. Investigators found that those effects included transcriptional changes in the intestinal mucsoa associated with immune development and potent effects on interferon, an essential mediator of our immune system. These studies demonstrate that the presence of murine norovirus can compensate for the loss of necessary bacterial companions. What experiments such as these are proving is that viruses are also part of our enlarged hologenome and essential for the balance of cellular forces that keep us healthy. Viruses are not just pathogens. Some of them are necessary to support intestinal homeostasis and are critical in shaping intestinal mucosal immunologic status. This range of action is similar to that of the microbiome that has itself only recently been explored in depth.

What might we make of these findings? The answer lies within re-envisioning ourselves as much more than unitary beings. We are vast interlocking collectives of life seamlessly constructed as to seem one. We are hologenomes.

Outbreak of Ebola will not be the last global epidemic, time to hit the reset button on how we treat it

Outbreak of Ebola and Global Epidemics

Dr. Bill Miller

The outbreak of Ebola will not be the last global epidemic. I recently was interviewed by Jeanine Prezioso of Reuters concerning this subject. The original article appeared here — http://blogs.reuters.com/global-markets-forum/2014/10/23/ebola-will-not-be-the-last-global-epidemic-time-to-hit-the-reset-button-on-how-we-treat-it-physician/.

—-

Ebola will not be the last global epidemic. It is, however, the first to spread as we hop on planes, rely on oil and chocolate from far flung locales and blindly lean on modern medicine’s ability to control and kill the very pathogens that live among us.

Now is the time to hit the reset button on our approach to viral outbreaks. While it’s taken health agencies, drug makers and the public-at-large time to wake up to the current spread of the deadly virus in Africa, there’s no time like the present to prepare for the next outbreak, Dr. Bill Miller, a physician and author of “The Microcosm Within: Evolution and Extinction in the Hologenome” said in an interview on Thursday.

A hologenome is essentially an organism’s sum of its parts, a combination of its cells and all the microbes (bacteria and viruses) that live within it. It’s the bacteria in your gut that helps your body break down food and the cold virus that makes you sick.

Ebola is just another microbe in a long list of those that seek to destroy its host, Miller says. His theories are a challenge to die-hard Darwinists, who, in turn, have challenged him. He has studied the intersection between immunology and infectious disease and says “our evolutionary narrative is different from Darwinian natural selection alone.”

Ebola, meanwhile, is thinning out the population in three West African nations. The U.N. World Health Organization’s (WHO) latest figures on Wednesday showed at least 4,877 people out of 9,936 confirmed cases have died in the outbreak in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. By many accounts those numbers may be conservative.

“The the single most important element of our health and success as individuals and species is how we cope with infectious diseases,” Miller told the Global Markets Forum. “Quarantine and isolation are really the only tools we have to deal with a pathogen such as Ebola since there is no generally available treatment other than supportive care and no vaccine.”

A lack of trained and available doctors to treat the infected at the virus’s epicenter and contain it is a big issue. Healthcare workers in contact with patients who have the virus run a higher risk of catching it. A doctor who returned to New York after treating Ebola-infected patients in Guinea was rushed to the hospital on Thursday with symptoms of the virus and tested positive for it later in the day.

Thomas Eric Duncan, who was visiting the U.S. from Liberia last month, was diagnosed with the virus in Dallas, Texas, and died earlier this month. A small outbreak in Nigeria was contained and a nurse in Spain was cured of the virus. The U.S. imposed screenings at major airports and six people who recently arrived to Connecticut from West Africa have been placed under quarantine.

Ebola is not known to spread in an airborne manner between humans, Miller said. It is “never impossible but very unlikely”. Miller’s recommendations for containing the outbreak are not far off from the protocols health and government officials have already put in place, i.e. setting up a team of infectious disease experts to assess individual cases. Also on hand should be a “core of highly trained individuals to come into any discrete area,” he said.

Miller called on researchers to speed up the study of the patterns of the disease and to streamline vaccine research. Big pharmaceutical companies are in the process of developing vaccines but want protection from legal entanglements. On Friday, the WHO said it expects to have 200,000 doses of Ebola vaccine available by the middle of next year.

“In the end, it is likely the big drug makers will be the ones that come out ahead. They have the budgets to do the expensive research, and they can buy any of the small ones that are initial leaders that succeed despite the odds,” he said.

All epidemics eventually burn out, Miller added.

“One day, this Ebola outbreak will just be a notation in the history books. And likely not nearly the most consequential, that is unless we exercise some foresight and this becomes that moment when a global partnership in common stewardship and joint need eventuates and we go forward with a very much improved international system.”

Biological Complexity, A Result of the Hologenomic Evolution Theory


biological-complexity
What produces biological complexity, novelty or impels the origin of species? When examined through all available contemporary evidence, the expression of novel phenotype and metabolic function emerges from processes other than natural selection and fitness as they have been traditionally assessed.

To best understand this issue, it is useful to closely consider a facet that is often overlooked in general discussions of evolutionary development. The case for natural selection dominating in evolutionary development can only be sustained if it is concomitantly presumed that variation is only random. In the circumstance in which organic variation is simply random, then abundant changes to a reproductive entity can be consistent with a path that builds alternative organic outcomes. Yet, even in this particular case, there would be no necessity for increasing complexity or useful novelty, since a random mechanism might just as easily go off in any direction. The barriers are obvious. Hence, an entire assembly of addenda to natural selection theory such as sexual selection mechanisms has been advanced to try to rescue Darwinism from this conundrum.

Once it is perceived that evolution is not entirely random and perhaps not even fundamentally so, then the centrality of natural selection is displaced. Clearly, if evolution is subject to any non-random agency, it is that explicit process that becomes the proximate force and dominant agency in evolution and supplants natural selection. It really is that simple. A direct choice is required; random or not? If evolution is non-random to any extent, then natural selection is simply a participatory agency within a more encompassing process.

Hologenomic evolution theory asserts that evolution is subject to both random and non-random forces. The non-random aspects relate to the activity of cells that are aware within their scope and scale. This faculty energizes cellular and genetic engineering as a non-random set of complex reactions to environmental influences through cell-cell interactions. These relationships build in intricate layers of both genetic and non-genic interchange, thereby enacting complexity and novel solutions to environmental stresses through collaborative, cooperative and competitive cellular networks.  Speciation emanates from these same cellular interchanges as immunological events that separate one set of cellular networks from another. Immunology ultimately governs all cellular relationships and it is these immunological factors that separate differing cellular ecologies from one another from which new species can emerge.

Natural selection acts precisely at the initiation of novel cellular expression from inter-cellular processes and genetic interchanges. At that moment, natural selection acts implacably to assure that only the ‘fit enough to survive’ do so. Importantly though, it acts specifically at the immunological level first, and the phenotypic level after. After all, reproduction is itself an immunological event and all inter-cellular exchanges are governed by immunological rules.

Thus, natural selection does not drive speciation, complexity or novelty. It acts instead as a filter of biologic outcomes as new species aggregates emerge through both random and non-random cellular interactions.  It also acts to maintain any species once present in its attempt to successfully react to an ever-changing environment by encouraging the expression of phenotypic variety from within an underlying capacious genome. All complex organisms are expressions of this coordinated cellular activity. It is innate cellular awareness that enables complex networks of co-linked and collaborative cellular ecologies. Hologenomic organisms are their product. All complex organisms on this planet are hologenomes. There are no exceptions. There are non-random reasons for it.

 

Natural Selection Theory and Same Sex Attraction

Natural-Selection-Theory-Same-Sex-AttractionDarwinism has always been bedeviled by same sex attraction. Evidence indicates that this trait is genetically rooted. Yet, if same sex attraction remains eternally common, how can it still resist being expunged by natural selection? Few traits can be regarded as more likely to govern reproductive frequency than same sex attraction. However, it is certainly known that this trait is widely distributed in the animal kingdom exhibited by mammals, fish, lizards, birds and insects. For humans, Richard Dawkins struggles to make sense of this within Darwinism. He offers three potential answers.

The ‘gay uncle’ theory

He proposes that a homosexual male in a hunter-gather society would be
preferentially entrusted to watch over the children of non-homosexual men. That
individual would then have protected and nurtured children any of whom might have
had a genetic predisposition to same sex attraction. In this manner, the genetic trait is
shielded and passed on. However, if the homosexual male is not himself reproducing in
this theory, the trait clearly still yields a selective disadvantage for homosexual
individuals.

The ‘lull the suspicions’ theory

In this instance, the homosexual male was entrusted by heterosexual men to be
a safe choice to stay home with women while the dominant heterosexual males went
off to hunt or fight. So according to Dawkins, this is a stealthy ploy whereby
homosexual or bisexual men gain surreptitious sexual access to women, mate with
them and pass on their genes. Not only is this fanciful on any thoughtful consideration,
but also makes the larger unfounded assumption that homosexual men are conditionally
attracted to women and further, are innately less aggressive than heterosexual men and
thereby less ‘manly’. Further, it makes the unwarranted assumption that bisexuality and
homosexuality are in some manner necessarily united.

The ‘social construct’ theory

Dawkins proposes that a ‘gay’ gene expresses itself differently under different
social circumstances. For example, a gay gene might be more expressed in urban than
rural environments. So, in accordance with this theory, the expression of same sex
tendency relates to social construct and environmental factors. Although it is clear that
epigenetic factors do definitively matter in evolution, a study from Vietnam in 2008
compared the differences in prevalence and practices of homosexual men in urban and
rural areas. This study concluded that there was a measurable difference in the
frequency of same sex intercourse but no change in the number of individuals engaged
in that activity. There is therefore no objective evidence to support this theory. Indeed,
if someone were inclined to agree, then inadvertent justification would be lent to those
who feel that same sex attraction can be mediated by intervention. Certainly, it would
be supposed that this is the opposite of Dawkins’ intent.

Instead, it would be reasonable to look elsewhere beyond natural selection theory to
explain same sex attraction. This is an exact power of hologenomic evolution theory. In
the hologenome, same sex attraction is assumed to be a conserved core process just as
many others are known to be. In the cellular world from which we are all descended,
asexual reproduction is commonplace. Some animals are unisexual. For example, all
rotifers are female, and there are other examples in the animal kingdom of unisexual
reproduction. So within hologenomic evolution theory, the continued incidence of same
sex attraction is simply an example of the dominant cellular imperative to preserve
what has always occurred. A trait exhibited as an essential element of our cellular
ancestors is brought forward through time and exhibits its effects within organisms as
they are eventually constituted. This is a scientifically realistic mechanism to explain
the persistence of same sex attraction. None of Dawkins’ theories based on natural
selection plausibly do so.

Global Epidemics – The Ebola Outbreak and the Reprecussions of Infectious Diseases on a World Wide Scale

The Ebola Outbreak and Global Epidemics

The Ebola Outbreak and Global Epidemics

The agitating Ebola outbreak has captured headlines. There are some who undoubtedly assume that this kind of epidemic is unusual. However, epidemic disease has always been a part of our biological system. Pandemics or the form of infectious disease that can spread across a continent or even the entire world are ancient processes too.

As the Ebola outbreak demonstrates, we humans have an extensive acquaintance with global epidemics and pandemics. Many of these infectious diseases occurred long before the modern era with its current ease of global travel or any concerns about a changing climate. Our written record of epidemics can be traced as far back as the Ten Plagues of Egypt which devastated livestock and humans. This experience is chronicled in Exodus 9:9, “ It will become fine dust over the whole land of Egypt, and festering boils will break out on men and animals throughout the land”. In the First Book of Samuel in the Old Testament, there is a vivid description of a lethal outbreak of ‘groin tumours’ in the Philistines, which was noted to occur in the presence of rats. This is possibly an early description of bubonic plague or tularemia associated with rodents. In the Middle Ages, there are extensive and graphic descriptions of the pandemic spread of bubonic plague in Europe and Asia that occurred in successive waves.

In more recent history, during the First World War in the fall of 1918, influenza ravaged populations worldwide accounting for an estimated 20-40 million deaths. It moved with astounding speed and at such a pace that more American troops died of influenza than in battle. Although there had been mild outbreaks of influenza in the spring of 1918, few deaths had occurred. However, within a short interval, a new strain of influenza virus emerged that was incredibly lethal. Uncontrollable hemorrhage into the lungs often lead to death within hours of the onset of symptoms. This pandemic was so sudden and unprecedented, and it exerted its worldwide effect with such fury, that a state of panic and chaos was experienced by many communities across the globe. Fatalities were not confined to the very young, elderly and infirm as is the typical distribution for influenza. Instead, it disproportionately attacked young adults and the previously healthy. This reversed the normal pattern of mortality so that its impact on the infrastructure of society had critical socioeconomic reverberations.

Now Ebola has raised global alarm. Although the spread of Ebola does not appear to follow the same mode of transmission as influenza, there are certain commonalities among any of the diseases that are currently considered to have the potential for world wide spread. Both influenza and Ebola are zoonoses, just like the viruses that spread HIV, SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), or West Nile Virus. A zoonosis is an infection spread from one species to another, from animals to man or from man to another animal. The majority of human pathogens are zoonotic and nearly all the emerging diseases are caused by zoonotic pathogens.

Our human activities are crucial to its incidence and spread. We interact with other animals by hunting across a broad range and consuming a great variety of other species for food. We are eager travelers and keep diverse pets that often accompany us as we wander. Modern technology has dramatically changed our speed and ability to travel the globe and even inhabit inhospitable climates. Consequently, we may inadvertently introduce a new pest to a pristine environment. We, as humans, are not merely the victims of disease but an important carrier of an immense amount of microbial life and may inadvertently introduce novel pathogens to other animals through our actions.

As a result, relatively obscure diseases are now being granted a larger global range. Once a new disease emerges outside of its prior range, our cultural traditions can have a crucial impact on its dissemination. Societies can react idiosyncratically to vaccination programs, have long standing burial rituals, or access to vastly different health resources. Stigmatization of the ill, traditional health practices in some cultures, handling of wastes and secretions, perceptions of individual rights, or acceptance of an imperative to quarantine can widely differ between cultures.

Despite such disparities, the current Ebola outbreak renders a unique opportunity. Disease recognizes no boundaries of class distinction, ethnicity, language, race, or religion. If properly understood, this tragic epidemic is a gateway to a crucial international dialogue. A global action plan should be swiftly formulated and implemented based on our experiences with this current tragedy.

What might such actions be?

There are existing health agencies with crucial expertise that can be strengthened, such as the World Health Organization, the National Institutes of Health or Centers for Disease Control. Heightened worldwide coordination of similar agencies is imperative and funding must be significantly increased.

A dedicated team of recognized international experts should be formed as a ready response team in preparation for the next outbreak since there will always be another.
Resources and research must be devoted to studying the patterns of communicable disease and improving assessment tools. The search for vaccines and other cures must be markedly accelerated.

New methods to restrict populations of mosquitoes, tics, other insect vectors or rodents must be extensively implemented on a global scale. These inexpensive measures would have an immediate and consequential impact on worldwide disease burden.

A global effort to educate leaders and populations about infectious disease control and precautions must be started immediately. Overcoming cultural impediments will take time and patient instruction.
It is certainly realistic to ask where the money for such programs will come from and how might such cooperation be organized?

Our world wide discussions about climate change offers one model. Expensive responses to that peril are urged but it is uncertain whether any such measures will realistically affect climate trends. However, no matter the cause of a changing climate or its time line, its ultimate effect on our own human experience will be most dramatically experienced by a changing pattern of infectious disease. Even now, there are currently observable examples. There has been a notable shift in distribution of malaria in Africa and Asia and a northward migration of West Nile Virus in the US. Previously rare infections apart from Ebola are extending beyond their prior endemic zones. A serious viral infection, Chikungunya, was once confined to a small area of Africa. It had previously spread to Europe and Asia but now for the first time surfacing in the Caribbean and the continental US.

Zoonotic diseases are ever occurring. Some are relatively harmless; yet, others may intermittently and unpredictably spread with such ferocity that unprepared and inadequate health systems will surely be overwhelmed. A prompt coordinated redirection of a significant proportion of our limited resources for climate remediation towards infectious disease research and interdiction is our best response to this Ebola experience. It is now time for all of us to rethink our place in the global village and embrace appropriate priorities and reciprocal responsibilities through common need.

The Hygiene Hypothesis, How Our Overprotective Nature is One of the Leading Causes of Allergies

The Hygiene Hypothesis, How Our Overprotective Nature is One of the Leading Causes of Allergies

The Hygiene Hypotheses and Causes of Allergies

I was young once. Now, I am a boomer. When I was growing up, I never knew any child with a food allergy. Allergies of any kind seemed rare. Yet now, allergic concerns are frequently encountered? Just a few weeks ago, I was on a flight from Phoenix to Philadelphia. Shortly after the flight began, the flight attendant announced that no nut snacks would be passed out with in-flight drink service since there was a passenger on the plane with a peanut allergy. After I got over my shock that there might have been any snack at all, I reflected with surprise on the notion that the allergy of this person was so severe that any peanuts anywhere in the cabin was a threat. I had come into contact with thousands of children while growing up both as classmates and friends and I had never ever seen any allergic reactions. We all ate the same foods and there were no dietary rules. What is happening? What is different? After all, just think of it,…. how many boomers ever had a friend with a gluten allergy?

The answer to this apparent disconnect may lie in the emerging science of the hologenome and our contemporary fastidious cleanliness. Current research has suggested that the surge of allergic symptoms is related to our attempt to distance ourselves from our ubiquitous microbial companions. This has been dubbed the “hygiene hypothesis.” In theory, as we seek to protect our young from dirt and disease, we are inadvertently causing an imbalance in our vital exposure to microbial companions that are imperative for our optimal health. New research is showing that we live in an exquisitely intimate association with a vast collection of microbial life. This partnership can directly affect our response to allergens. There is epidemiological evidence that supports this new perspective. Some studies strongly suggest that immunological diseases such as asthma and autoimmune diseases are less common in countries considered to be underdeveloped compared to wealthier nations. Interestingly, this same pattern sees to also hold for a variety of other chronic illnesses.

These microbial partnerships are essential to our metabolism, reproduction, longevity, and well being. This is now known as the new science of the hologenome. The concept of the hologenome re-envisions all organisms as a deeply interlinked complex partnerships between the cells that make us ourselves and our indispensable microbial partners. This has lead to a concept called the ‘old friends hypothesis’. As proposed in 2003, this theory asserts that there needs to be a requisite exposure to a variety of diverse microbes with which we were associated during our evolutionary journey. Therefore, our metabolism is dependent upon certain microbes, as ‘old friends’, and they have become absolutely necessary for our optimal immunological development.

In our zeal to protect against harmful infections, we have inadvertently shielded our children from the typical exposure to a diverse array of microbial life that had characterized all prior generations. The consequence of this exclusion from these vital exposures is experienced as a significant increase in allergic reactions such as hay fever, food intolerance and asthma. In theory then, a substantial increase in the incidence of allergy is a result of this restricted exposure to the microbial domain. All of these problems are thought to be an expression of a decrease in immune tolerance related to a significant change in how our children encounter the environment compared to previous generations.

It currently appears that allergic reactions of all sorts may be directly related to the inadvertent exclusion of critical microbes that co-evolved with us and are required for our personal microbial and cellular ecological balance. Medical practitioners are learning that our health depends on this striking balance of microbial forces. For example, recent research suggests that infants that are not fully exposed to an extensive group of microbes have a less diverse gut microbiome ( microbial species in the gut) and are at increased risk of allergies and asthma. A recent Canadian study provided evidence that exposure to pets and a large number of siblings influenced the early development of gut microbial community of an infant. Less exposure was directly implicated in the subsequent development of allergic disease.
Some scientists believe that the lack of exposure of children to the normal distribution of microbial interchanges can have additional implications. Research studies suggest a potential association between this generational change in childhood experience and the increasing incidence of chronic diseases beyond asthma, food allergies or allergic rhinitis. Many immune centered diseases are potential related to this dynamic such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, some cancers and even psychological entities such as depression or autism.

What then is an appropriate response to these concerns? Actually nothing special at all. If your child has been vaccinated, simply be willing to let your child share in reasonable unrestricted play with other children and share toys. And also, just let them roll in the dirt with a pet.

Viral Metagenomic Studies

Viral MetagenomicsViral genomics is the study of the full composition of viral genetic source material in the environment. Studies utilizing new technologies are identifying an enormous range of viral diversity that is typically invisible to standard studies. The hologenomic participants in an ecology cannot be fully understood unless these entities are identified. The metagenomic approach has improved our understanding of viral epidemiology, the impact of viruses on our evolutionary transit and has impacted and accelerated the discovery of previously unsuspected viral participants.

Part of the difficulty in identifying viral strains is that many viruses are difficult to amplify in cell cultures. However, there are now numerous molecular techniques to genetically characterize and identify new viruses without the limitations of prior techniques requiring targeted reagents. The range of ecologies to which these new techniques have been applied is quite far reaching. For example, seawater, feces, shore sediments, plasma, or respiratory secretions are only a few. The product of these investigations is a new understanding of the profound variety and influences of viral loads on every ecology. 

Among other things learned to date, unbiased characterization of viral loads on various populations is challenging our prior notions of ‘sterile’ environments. Such studies need not apply to just viral load however. In 2013, a new species of bacteria was discovered in the ‘clean’ rooms used by NASA to build their spacecraft. It had been previously assumed that these specialized rooms were sterile. However, as it has been discovered, this was an unwarranted assumption. In 2007, an unusual bacterium was identified that had eluded all known and repeated sterilization methods. Two years later, this same bacterium was identified inside a clean room at the European Space Agency’s launch site in South America, nearly 2500 miles distant from the site at which it was first discovered. Analysis showed that it should be considered not only a new species, but also an entirely new bacterial genus with a unique molecular composition of its cell wall and other differentiating properties. 

Metagenomic studies based on new techniques beyond outdated cell culture methods allow researchers to identify a wide variety of microbial life that has been hidden from our purview. Some of this previously invisible life as already hitched a ride to any place in space that we have attempted to explore. Surely this is unintentional, but the implications are as yet unknown. 

Hologenomic evolution theory asserts that all multicellular organisms are highly complex and largely specific united co-dependent ecologies. We are only now beginning to understand how profound and varied this partnership can be. As abundantly documented in The Microcosm Within, we are all the current products of hologenomic forces that are only just beginning to be comprehended through the new types of investigations, such as metagenomic analysis, that are only now commonly employed.

Part 5: Epigenetics & Homosexuality

epigenetics homosexuality

Homosexuality and Epigenetics

It is now well established that same sex attraction is not volitional. In The Microcosm Within, the incompatibility of any adequate theory for the persistence of homosexuality within the standard Darwinian construct of natural selection is fully discussed. The evidence points to same sex attraction as a genetic event representing the conservation of an original cellular capacity for self-reproduction brought forward over time as a conserved core process and expressed throughout the animal kingdom as same sex attraction.

More recently, there has been consideration that same sex attraction might be under epigenetic influences. A relationship between epigenetics and homosexuality have been cued from a 2012 study that proposed an experimental model in which epigenetic markers relate to same sex orientation.  This theory was offered as an explanation for some interesting well known observations; the tendency for homosexuality to run in families, the fact that only 20% of identical twins express same sex attraction, and the fact that no ‘homosexuality’ gene has ever been identified. 

The proposal of the research scientists in that study is that epigenetic markers are shaped by androgen signaling and become a factor in gonad development thereby molding sexual orientation. In effect, the underlying genes are modified by epigenetic factors based on the differential experience of the fetus to the stress of maternal hormonal levels. These markers can then be transferred to successive generations accounting for the familial tendency. It is not merely the absolute level of the androgen signals that might matter, but the underlying sensitivity of the developing cells to these signals. This might differ from individual to individual based on genetic architecture or there may be an inherent difference between males and females. The effects of these transmitted epi-marks need not be specific to the gonads, instead affecting areas of the brain, so that there is no difference in the gonads themselves. 

Not everyone feels that this type of theorizing is particularly important since it is clear that same sex attraction is simply part of the human condition and our inherent variability. Yet, this sort of investigation and speculation does serve to emphasize that same sex attraction, what ever its causes, is not subject to the simple rules of natural selection that underpins Darwinism. Further too, if such a trait with its consequential impact on reproduction escapes natural selection, then a theory of evolution as impelled by natural selection needs to be reexamined.