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Systemic Biology 64

The history of cells seems to mainly center around the maximization of their intelligence. When cells have reached their maximum size and to become more intelligent, they group into multicellular communities. They then begin to divide tasks among themselves and specialize. The advantages of community life have led to colonies of millions of billions of socially-interactive cells… which have become mammals and human beings. “We are the product of this cooperation, without it there is no life.” (Lipton)

The study of these relationships is now a rapidly growing field called “systemic biology”. A classic example of the benefits of microorganisms for humans is our digestive system’s bacteria, which are essential to our survival. It should be noted that there are 10 to 100 times more bacteria in our gut than cells in our body. When their environment is favorable to them, the bacteria in our gut kill the other organisms which are not in harmony with the symbiosis between us and them. This cooperation allows us to benefit from a very efficient protection system and offers our guests a well-adapted living space. Furthermore, a large part of our digestion is accomplished by this micro-flora. These bacteria are not our enemies; on the contrary, without them we could not survive. There still remains one step leading to closer cooperation: it would seem that organisms belonging to different species may share their genes. This fact turns our definition of species on its head. “Scientists are realizing that genes are being transmitted not only between the individual members of a species, but also between members of different species. Sharing genetic information through gene transfer accelerates evolution since organisms can acquire experience ‘learned’ from other organisms”. Given this gene-sharing, we can no longer see organisms as isolated entities. “There is therefore no barrier between species”. (Daniel Drell). This phenomenon of dispersion of the genetic pool has rather important consequences: One study has already revealed that when humans ingest genetically modified foods, the artificial genes modify the nature of intestinal bacteria, which work symbiotically with our cells…

Mammals are fundamentally cooperative beings. Ethology, the study of animal behavior in different species, amply demonstrates that the propensity to live communally can be found at every scale in evolution. “Altruism and the capacity to live communally are also very important in the mammal world” (Lipton). We know that mammals help each other constantly, in a spontaneous and disinterested way. A chimpanzee will help another chimpanzee even if they know that there won’t be a reward.


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