1. April 8th,2008 10:23 pm
As is your habit in these lovely essays, you stick scrupulously to the fine points of your scientific analysis and leave it to your readers to apply your lessons to the deep dilemmas of modern mankind.
Let us begin by acknowledging that homo sapiens is fully capable of entering into long term mutualistic arrangements with other species. Man and dog is the most conspicuous of these alliances, a form of mutualism with roots that may be as ancient as two hundred thousand years.
The deeper question your essay implicitly raises is why humanity has so profoundly forsaken the obvious benefits of mutualism in favor of an extreme form of dominance over all other species. The short term benefits of this dominance are clearly at odds with the evolutionary catastrophe we are in the process of precipitating.
Let us hope that one day you will focus your theoretical prowess on that tragic paradox, and maybe even point the way toward a solution to it.
— Posted by David Moody
4. April 9th,2008 1:11 am
Symbiosis, or mutualism, is one of my favorite scientific subjects. Recently I have become aware of the extent to which humans depend on the beneficial gut bacteria for both digestion and immune function–and these same bacteria may explain why some people like chocolate and others do not. Intestinal worms, previously thought to be parasitic only, seem to have a modulatory effect on the immune system, staving off allergies, asthma, and some autoimmune disorders. Makes one wonder what other “disorders” have hidden medical benefits.
As you mentioned, you could go on forever talking about mutualisms, but you did omit one of my favorites. It’s another one involving ants and fungi, but parasitic rather than symbiotic. In this case, the fungus infects the ant’s brain, causing it to climb to the highest treetop where it is essentially petrified and dies. Then the fungus consumes the ant’s body, and the spores are dispersed from an optimal location, high above the ground.
I don’t have complete citations, but in the spirit of your detailed references I feel obliged to provide some supporting info. The parasitic fungus is cordyceps. The paper about the correlation between liking/disliking chocolate and metabolism is “Human Metabolic Phenotypes Link Directly to Specific Dietary Preferences in Healthy Individuals” by Rezzi et al. Dr. Joel Weinstock, at the University of Iowa, has done research on using pig whipworm eggs as treatment for inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and Crohn’s disease.
— Posted by Aurelio Ramirez