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[Holon] Humans are simultaneously a separate individual and a part of a larger organism

[Holon] Humans are simultaneously a separate individual and a part of a larger organism [Holon] Humans are simultaneously a separate individual and a part of a larger organism
Source: Immersion into the future via decanteddesign
Lives of a Cell
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Lives of a Cell
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A good case can be made for our nonexistence as entities. Humans or beings are not made up of successively enriched packets of their own parts. They are shared, rented, occupied. At the interior of their cells, driving them, pervading the oxidative energy that sends them out for the improvement of each shining day, are the mitochondria, and in a strict sense they are not theirs. They turn out to be little separate creatures, the colonial posterity of migrant prokaryocytes, probably primitive bacteria that swam into ancestral precursors of our eukaryotic cells and stayed there. Ever since, they have maintained themselves and their ways, replicating in their own fashion, privately, with their own DNA and RNA quite different from ours. They are as much symbionts as the rhyzobial bacteria in the roots of beans. Without them, we would not move a muscle, drum a finger, think a thought.

Mitochondria are stable and responsible lodgers. But what of the other little animals, similarly established in our cells . . . Our centrioles, basal bodies, and probably a good many other more obscure tiny beings at work inside our cells, each with its own special genome, are as foreign, and as essential, as aphids in anthills.

I like to think that they work in my interest, that each breath they draw for me, but perhaps it is they who walk through the local park in the early morning, sensing my senses, listening to my music thinking my thoughts.

But green plants are in the same fix. They could not be plants, or green, without their chloroplasts, which run the photosynthetic enterprise and generate oxygen for the rest of the planet. As it turns out, chloroplasts are also separate creatures with their own genomes, speaking their own language.

We carry stores of DNA in our nuclei that may have come in, at one time or another, from the fusion of ancestral cells and the linking of ancestral organisms in symbiosis. Our genomes are catalogues of instructions from all kinds of sources in nature, filled for all kinds of contingencies. As for me, I am grateful for differentiation and speciation, but I cannot feel as separate an entity as I did a few years ago, before I was told these things, nor, I should think, can anyone else.

The uniformity of the earth's life, more astonishing than its diversity, is accountable by the high probability that we derived, originally, from some single cell, fertilized in a bolt of lightning as the earth cooled. It is from the progeny of this parent cell that we take our looks; we still share genes around, and the resemblance of the enzymes of grasses to those of whales is a family resemblance.

The viruses, instead of being single-minded agents of disease and death, now begin to look more like mobile genes. Evolution is still an infinitely long and tedious biological game, with only the winners staying at the table, but the rules are beginning to look more flexible. We live in a dancing matrix of viruses; they dart, rather like bees, from organism to organism, from plant to insect to mammal to me and back again, and into the sea, tugging along pieces of this genome, strings of genes from that, transplanting grafts of DNA, passing around heredity as though at a great party. They may be a mechanism for keeping new, mutant kinds of DNA in the widest circulation among us.

If this is true, the odd virus disease, on which we must focus so much of our attention in medicine, may be looked on as an accident, something dropped.

I have been trying to think of the earth as a kind of organism, but it is no go... It is too big, too complex, with too many working parts lacking visible connections. The other night, driving through a hilly wooded part of southern New England, I wondered about this. If not like an organism, what is it like, what is it most like? Then, satisfactorily for that moment, it came to me: it is most like a single cell.

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