Survival of the Sickest — Part III

What did you think about the reading?

Flipping page by page, I continued to nevertheless be absorbed and captivated to the extraordinary, yet recent advances this book reports. Here I am astonished, how much our life is interconnected, as was demonstrated by how parasites not only solely impact their intended targets, however unintentionally will affect other organisms, profoundly in certain aspects, such as altering their behavior. I would find myself quite mesmerize, on how little we know about the connection with parasites and humans behavior, yet the reasons that we suppose why these reactions occur are still spell bounding. Especially with the uncertainty of how much we know about this topic, it enthralls me even further, that there is more to know (and more to be wrong)! It’s a field that I am excited to watch develop in the near future. Furthermore, along with these engrossing facts about complicated relationships that persist, I was enthralled how bacteria and viruses, are able to manipulate organism, in thoughts of its own success. Moreover, a thought that had never occurred to me, and I am glad that is mentioned by the author, is that it is possible for severely harmful viruses, like cholera, malaria and so on, to not be harmful to their host, as long as there is some method for them, to require the need of the host, and not perishing it off, in order to be transferred, as like the common cold. As one may conclude, I quite thoroughly enjoyed chapter 5.

However, I did discover myself further savoring chapter 6, then that of the wonderful previous chapter I encountered. Always being quite fond of genetics, this chapter specifically was to my liking from the start. With genetics a field that appears to be growing, and revolutionizing right before our eyes, I find myself enthralled and indebt to learn as much as possible. This constantly changing subject, as may be observed with the recent new thoughts on junk DNA, and alike, fascinates on how much uncertainty, and people are daily learning something newer and greater. However, for the sake of not boring you, the reader, to death (if I haven’t done so already), I enjoyed chiefly from this chapter, in short I hugely relished “junk DNA”, learning how we are related to viruses, “jumping” genes, and lastly the discussion on mutations.

As one may obviously may infer, I frankly found it a pleasurable experience coming through Dr. Moalem’s masterful work. And sneak peaking ahead, the final 2 chapters, by the creative titles, appears will be another fun journey scouring through.

What did you learn?

With such vast volumes of information, I will attempt not to speak of every detail I learn in this novel, instead the crucial, necessary facts I believe I should take from this experience. Starting with chapter 5, the Guinea worm experience appeared quite gruesome and excruciating, as they “acid” their way out, causing unbearable pain to the host, forcing them to seek refuge for water to go and continue on life, practically manipulating their “caregiver”. This and the other instances explained, such as malaria, virus in upper respiratory track, cholera, Hymenoepimecis argyraphaga, T. gondii, opened up my view on why and how parasites, viruses, and bacteria will exploit their host. Furthermore, I also gained knowledge that yogurt is a great probiotic source, and is the reason why doctors tell their patients to eat yogurt, when they are on certain medication. Moreover, I understood that T. gondii and potentially thousands of other parasites will cause actual changes to a human behavior, however it is not certain for T. gondii if its effects on humans are purposeful or accidentally affects us. However, I understood we are still unsure and are striving to learn how organisms are able to control the human mind, or body in general. Additionally, it is currently being debated whether or not T. gondii may actually trigger schizophrenia. Also, when an animal may become terribly sick, and often is part of some type of pack, it appears that actually the sick organism may leave the pack itself, not the pack completely abandoning the poor animal, as previously thought. Furthermore, I understood that we can domesticate strains of mild disease, if we favor the mild strain and steer the evolution of it, and shut down all modes of transmission, humans should soon in the future not fear something as deadly and wretched like cholera or malaria. As can be seen, chapter 5 was a critical read on the perspective of what host manipulation is and how to defend against it.

Later on, in chapter 6, I acquired much information about DNA in general, which I will share now. First off, I discovered only 3% of your DNA contains instructions for the construction of cells, while the 97% is “not active for building anything”. That 97% DNA, previously regarded as “junk” DNA, the majority of it is a composite of bacterial and viral DNA, as 1/3 of our DNA is viral DNA. Moreover, I learn that there is a correlation between flu epidemics, and sunspot peaks, and what an antigenic shift is. Also, I gained knowledge about the “knockout” experiments, which scientists were shocked by the findings, as they removed what they thought were “necessary” genes for certain items to be produced, however that was not the case, and it appears other genes stepped up for the task. Moreover I discovered, how Lamarck was falsely framed as the creator of inherited acquired traits, but instead promoted it, while promoting evolution. Additionally, later on I found myself learning that McClintock discovered “jumping genes”, through studying corn. A jumping gene, as I came to learn, is a sequence of DNA moving around through the genome, inserting itself, sometimes, in active genes. Such a phenomenon, possibly explained why mutations can have such a profound impact quickly, as these transposons will often be triggered by some external or internal event. Jumping genes are especially prevalent with brain development, in the neonatal years of life. Along with the remarkable discovery of transposons, I acquired what a Weismann barrier is, as it states that no genetic material may be passed from somatic cells to germ cells, however recently it appears viruses are able to violate such a rule, specifically retroviruses. Also, I discovered that a minimum of 8% of our data is hardcore, permanent retrovirus DNA. There was much more nitty-gritty information on the wonderful and fascinating topic of jumping genes, however this was the notable, noteworthy information I took away from my wonderful read.

Consequently, I have learned much from the vast volumes of information packed in these two chapters, and I was not to be in any shape or form disappointed. I truly enjoyed the experience of learning such insightful knowledge, most of which I have never had the opportunity to stumble upon.

Do you have any questions?

As always, I was generally satisfied with the explanation given by the author, and the majority of my questions just were not discussed in the reading. When will be able to you “jumping genes”, to be able to lengthen lives and improve health quality? How far off in the future, may men and bacteria/viruses coexist peacefully (if ever)? If I understand correctly, is the reason why we have so much viral DNA, is it because of our constant exposure to disease? What other great probiotic sources are there? What gave rise to retroviruses, was there a specific evolutionary pressure? If we ever figure out how parasites are able to control animals’ brains, could we possibly use that to control someone’s conscience? Is it possible, that somewhere in a jumping gene, there’s a code that cells do not need iron, but survive off another type of material that will substitute iron, and we implicate such gene into the human genome, to prevent attracting disease, or would that be an utter debacle?

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One thought on “Survival of the Sickest — Part III

  1. From my understanding, I think that some of our viral DNA, according to the novel, is not all from disease but some is actually from helpful viruses. As the text says, “But if the virus doesn’t hurt-or even helps- the offspring’s chance to survive and reproduce, that virus may end up a permanent part of the gene pool,” (150). And, if the viral DNA were to come from harmful diseases, wouldn’t it not last? Dr. Moalem states in chapter six, “Usually, of course, as with all mutations, when an organism’s offspring is born with DNA that has been changed by a retrovirus in one of its parents’ germ cells, that change is probably harmful, so it doesn’t last” (149-150). However, in my own thoughts, if this disease were to not harm the offspring until far after reproduction age, then the viral DNA could be passed on for a very long time.
    Your last question is very interesting. It reminds me of the probiotic bacterium Lactobacillus, a bacterium who uses cobalt and manganese instead of iron to survive (99). Perhaps we could insert some of their genes into our own to prevent attracting diseases.

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