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Friday, November 25, 2005


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What kind of tool do I want? I want a tool that can send this post to every blogger in the world. Instantly. And requires a response. In two weeks. Non-response punishable by public flogging.

I am so glad you have written this. I will definitely (but let me sleep on this first, then re-read it tomorrow, OK?) respond to this on my blog and urge people to come here, read this, comment and think about this.

Thank you.


Like you at the conference, reading yesterday’s post made me think of all sorts of things – some of them microbiological, most of them not. Regarding microbiology, I started thinking about whether or not in reality that we EVER work with a single organism. We don’t. We sometimes think we do – we streak plates and obtain “isolates” (which are really colonies) and we grow them up and examine their biochemistry or genetics. But what we are really examining is a group of very, very similar organisms – I mean, we can’t even come to any kind of agreement with respect to what defines a “species” within the Eubacteria, much less work with “one”. This (of course) made me think of some of the more versatile microorganisms, Pseudomonas and Burkholderia, famed “versaphiles” – in Pseudmonas aeruginosa, for example, they are finding genomic islands that contribute all sorts of competitive and adaptive traits. But regardless of the islands present in any “one” isolate (or colony) – they are all considered strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa. As much as I think that microorganisms are definitely social (and intelligent) beings, I also am regularly humbled by what the study of a single microbial colony has shown us. Those genomes…I mean, we just looked at four actinomycetes isolated from a uranium-contaminated site using a collaborator’s functional gene microarray and found only 15 of 25,098 genes examined being similar between the four organisms. Microbial diversity – genetic diversity - is just mind-boggling.

Which just brings me, oddly enough, to the whole Maureen Dowd thing, because I received an email this morning from a colleague who used “quorum” in her message. I read through your earlier discussions, and the Chris Nolan take on the whole thing and again must say, back to diversity, that the comments I’ve heard from everyone has been about as diverse as your everyday microbial biofilm. I can’t help but quote a woman in my research group (yes, I hire women, and try to mentor them as well as the men) in her response to Nolan’s take:

“So, the younger generation of women feels betrayed and misunderstood by old-school feminists? I think the reverse is also true. Maybe they're not working with the same old retrograde men that we are, and therefore don't feel the pressure, and I guess that would be progress. I'm sorry about the perception that successful women have pulled the ladder up behind them, but it wouldn't surprise me...success is still defined in terms of ladder-pulling patriarchy, and most women have had to play by the rules to make it. I just hope we'll get a quorum someday so that progressive ideas can get a hearing! Interesting take on Monica as a feminist owning her sexuality, and being called names by old-school feminists. I didn't know feminism was about sex, I thought it was about self-determination, equality! What's equal about a page blowing an executive? I am really out of touch, I guess.”

For me, Dowd hit on a few things that I recognized, as well as a lot of my female colleagues and friends – a lot of folks (male and female) emailed me the link to her article. I’ve been called draining more times than I’m comfortable with, and a lot of what she said resonated with me (and I’m a woman who has definitely not led Dowd’s “protected” life!). I do worry about the mentoring issue – and have been disappointed in the past by choices that my female students have taken (and some of the males as well), and I have wondered if they look at my life and thought “Do I want THAT?” But I hate that the whole discussion of feminism comes down to Maureen Dowd’s (or even my own) ability to get a date. It’s not all about sex either. For folks that might be interested in broader issues that “old-school” feminism tries (tried?) to address, spend a week with me at work. Or, better yet, first read SCIENCE (19 August 2005, Vol. 309. no. 5738, pp. 1190 – 1191) and then come spend some time with me. The women who wrote the article don’t complain about their dating lives, and don’t mention Monica Lewinsky even once.

Which brings me to an online article I read this morning - Scott Shane’s article in today’s NYT: “Universities Say New Rules Could Hurt U.S. Research”. I’ve already had to give the powers that be a list of foreign nationals in my lab, and a list of equipment – and they plan on cross-listing equipment with sensitive technologies and countries that we don’t allow exportation of that equipment/technology. It’s creepy, and I hate it all. No wonder WP is a possible weapon of choice now – talk about creepy. What are we becoming?


Before I get to writing my own, just a couple of book recommends...

John Bonner has spent 50 years studying slime mold. Those are single cells for most of the time. Then, when conditions are right, the cells start calling each other and aggregating. Together they form a mushroom-like structure with a head and a stalk. The cells in the head reproduce. The cells in the stalk do not - as good as suicide.

Bonner, being a brilliant person, wrote a number of books on various topics, some technical, some much more easy to read. I think you would love his "Evolution of Complexity" where he extends his insights from slime mold to human communities (that was before Internet, though). You may also enjoy his "Life Cycles" as well as a book he wrote at retirement (titled something like "50 yeasr in biology"). Just search his name and read the reviews.

Stuart Kauffman's "At home in the Universe" is excellent at explaining how many little simple elements, when interacting together, build a whole that is bigger than the sum of its parts. His last chapter applies to economics, in an interesting way (I used to hate that chapter and vehemently disagree, but I have come around).

Finally, to learn about selection at the level of the group, the place to go is "Unto Others" by Elliott Sober and David Sloan Wilson. The first half explains how group selectin works and gives examples from lab and fieled. The second half applies the model to the question of the evolution of human altruism. Wilson followed this up with another book, "Darwin's Cathedrals", applying group-selection thinking to the problem of evolution and adaptive function of religion. You'd love it, I think...

Anna Haynes

> ... public flogging ...

oh no, not another one...

Since there are no unrelated topics -

Another life form your blogoslime mold reminds me of is corporations - you take all these well meaning neurons and support cells, and, via morphogens known as "paycheck", "profit" and "externalities", organize them into a creature with sociopathic characteristics.
(other creatures like "communist state" may be more hideous, but still...)

I'm not convinced though, I still see blogosphere as ecosystem not as life form - seems to me, a life form presupposes the existence of other life forms, to compete with - otherwise what causes the selection pressure for within-'self' cooperation?

(I don't believe in Gaia either)
(disclaimer: may have missed relevant points in your post, fingers and toes are freezing which isn't conducive to concentration)

> ... group-selection thinking to the problem of evolution and adaptive function of religion ...

which fits in rather well with Fred Clark's recent post on so-called-Christians' attempts to narrow the focus of who they're required to care for; excerpt:
"'whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
For those who claim to be followers of Jesus, this passage ...doesn't provide a great deal of wiggle room. So, naturally, it tends to provoke a great deal of wiggling.
Many American evangelicals lunge for a technical, lawyerly reading ..."

Also, a different (and I hope transitory) metaview of life from Lisa Williams - "Is life a game that you can win, or is it like Space Invaders, where they just keep coming at you until you die?"

Anna Haynes

re religion part above - the connection was to be that the tendency they're displaying is to want to limit the "love your neighbor" neighbors to "people like us", "of our tribe", "of our religion" - which of course aids the spread thereof, especially if it gives you license to neglect/exterminate the heathens.

Anna Haynes

The hive mind at work -
on Morph (Nov 22), here's Guy with new Cell Phone as neuron ("As the individuals of our species plug into the neuro-network of instant communication and their random firings evolve into relevant communication, what will our species then become?")



Sol Cohen

The parts of your blog that I am referring to are in quotations.

“That’s just the beginning. Since the late 1990s, an Israeli physicist named Eshel Ben-Jacob has written a series of revolutionary papers from his studies of this bacterial communication: Among his findings: That the group state of these simple organisms represents a complex, aware entity with the ability to intentionally modify its own genetic code. Ben-Jacob even proposes a term for this amazing ability: cooperative evolution.”

YES! I also add that the colonies can form themselves into imagery that indicates that they are trying to communicate with us!! I have many photographs that may indicate that this is true.

“There was one other stray thought floating in that mixture: the notion that human consciousness, memory and perception occurs not in a physical location within the brain, but as a 3D holographic projection, the net result of millions of neurological connections and streaming stimuli”.

AGAIN YES! We do not know how but the cells can communicate with other cells all over the world and that including us humans. They speak to us very softly and we tend to think that it is “our idea’ where it is the cells that are trying to guide. This is the basis for the synchronicities (coincidences) that we all experience.

For my mad minute of comment, this is what I talked about in the big classroom at North Carolina A&T: The mind of the species. Cooperative evolution. “Tools that would let us see and understand, instantly, what other people were thinking and saying”.

Join the exclusive club of those of us who believe that you are on the right track as the tools are built in to us all. The cells try to help us but we do not know how to listen....usually....but then there are those who listen. Perhaps most of us only hear a part of the message from the cells what have their own way of gathering information.

Cleave Derrick a polograph expert wrote the book “Primary Perception” in 2004 about biocommunications that occures with plants, living foods, and human cells. He attached a volt meter to a plant and the polograpgh machne showed reactions when a threating thought occurred. The polograph would also registered reactions when a person who had bonded with the plant had an emotonal event. The plant would have the same reactions when the bonded person was hyundreds of miles from the plant. The plants reaction showed on the polograph machine and it was at the same time as when the emotional event happened. It would seem that the cells in plants are doing that you referred to when you wrote: “ let us see and understand, instantly, what other people were thinking and saying about”

“ In their silent chemical speech, these ronin are constantly shouting into the abyss: “Hello! Hello! Hello!” From an evolutionary biologist’s viewpoint, that fact alone suggests that bacteria grasp that group-living provides a competitive advantage.”

HELLO! HELLO! from cells in a cheese sandwich.... The sale of a cheese sandwich on eBay made the headlines when it was sold for over twenty thousand dollars. I accidentally discovered that one can see the cells in a photograph using a combination of Photoshop filters. The image in the cheese sandwich was formed by cells. Was it an image of the Virgin Mary? I do not know, but if a large group of humans were praying and a colony of cells could read their minds....they just might have formed a female face in the protein to communicate. Her hair style was modern, but what do cells know about fashion?

“Colonies are composed of cells that arrange themselves into what can only be thought of as architecture. These are not blobs, but intentional structures, designed to maximize flow and nutrient distribution.”

YES AGAIN! But distribution may not be the motivation. The architecture you refer to I believe is the ability of the cells to form images and symbols as a way to communicate. I have been taking photographs of cell colonies for over twenty years, The imagery that they are capable of forming seems to be impossible. The cells are communicating but do they can not create works of art, they require pattern recognition. One example is when a colony of cells formed an image that looked furry, has a rounded head two eyes, and a small tail it was similar to a cat. When it was sprayed with water an open mouth with a tongue was formed and it looked as if it was licking its nose.

I have a photograph of my cat licking his nose and it was a chance happening. My old digital camera required 10 seconds to recycle and another second after pressing the button to take the photo. The flicking of his tongue takes a fraction of a second.

You write of what the colonies of cells and humans cells have in common. After a few years of technology we have learned how to communicate with an international internet. The Eukaryote cells have had over two billion years of evolution and some believe that they have developed their own universal means of communicating. As you know all plant and animal life was formed from one proeukaryote cell. It seems possible that we all have developed the same need of communicating with each other.

There is much more that I could add, but I will stop now and wait to see if there is any interest in this my first blog.

My business email [email protected]

Sol Cohen

This is a very well written commentary and hypothisis of cell intellegence.....but for the most scientific information about cell intelligence try reading this information: http://www.basic.northwestern.edu/g-buehler/cellint0.htm
Guenter Albrecht-Buehler, Ph.D.
Fellow, European Academy of Sciences, Brussels
Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies, Berlin
Robert Laughlin Rea Professor of Cell Biology
Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago

Jean McGreggor

So we are ALL interconnected with every other living thing ! The Pagans are right.If we could only find a way to listen and understand. What wonderful things we could learn.

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