For centuries, the Chinese have been treating disease as an imbalance in the body. The latest research into body-as-ecosystem reminds us that if bacteria outnumber native cells in the human body by 10 to 1, we’d better figure out how to get along with all those neighbors living under our skin.
meckdevil writes with this excerpt from the Miller-McCune magazine: “In a series of recent findings, researchers describe bacteria that communicate in sophisticated ways, take concerted action, influence human physiology, alter human thinking, bioengineer the environment and control their own evolution. … The abilities of bacteria are interesting to understand in their own right, and knowing how bacteria function in the biosphere may lead to new sources of energy or ways to degrade toxic chemicals, for example. But emerging evidence on the role of bacteria in human physiology brings the wonder and promise — and the hazards of misunderstanding them — up close and personal. … Because in a very real sense, bacteria are us. Recent research has shown that gut microbes control or influence nutrient supply to the human host, the development of mature intestinal cells and blood vessels, the stimulation and maturation of the immune system, and blood levels of lipids such as cholesterol. They are, therefore, intimately involved in the bodily functions that tend to be out of kilter in modern society: metabolism, cardiovascular processes and defense against disease. Many researchers are coming to view such diseases as manifestations of imbalance in the ecology of the microbes inhabiting the human body. If further evidence bears this out, medicine is about to undergo a profound paradigm shift, and medical treatment could regularly involve kindness to microbes.”
Meanwhile scientists are beginning to look at bacteria as the appropriate model for complex human behavior rather than the artificial intelligence algorithms of game theory. Perhaps Jeremy Rifkin was right: the 20th century may have culminated in the computer, but the 21st century will focus on cytoplasm over silicon.
An anonymous reader writes “When it comes to gambling, many people rely on game theory, a branch of applied mathematics that attempts to measure the choices of others to inform their own decisions. It’s used in economics, politics, medicine — and, of course, Las Vegas. But recent findings from a Tel Aviv University researcher suggest that we may put ourselves on the winning side if we look to bacteria instead. According to Prof. Eshel Ben-Jacob of Tel Aviv University’s School of Physics and Astronomy, current game theory can’t account for bacteria’s natural decision-making abilities — it’s just too simplistic. Understanding bacteria’s reactions to stressful and hazardous conditions may improve decision-making processes in any human arena from everyday life to political elections.”