To understand what keeps us vibrantly healthy, fertile as a species and with better sexual function at any stages of life (ultimate proof of health and vitality), one needs to better understand our ecosystem (Last week’s BLOG on microbiome) as well as our survival mechanism. This blog recapitulates the knowledge I gained from a lecture with Dr Zach Bush, MD, at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition about viruses and their critical role in our survival and adaptation to a deteriorating environment. I felt everyone should have this knowledge.
We have a misconception that viruses are these little things that are alive, float around and that we breathe and that make us sick. This isn’t true. Viruses never have enough genetic information to make somebody sick. They carry so few genes, typically 4 to 6 genes at the most. It’s a very tiny amount of genetic information (remember humans have just about 20,000 genes). Viruses are not a living thing at all: They do not have the ability to make any fuel and they cannot reproduce. a virus is just a packet of information. Just like the microRNA discussed in last week’s blog, that we exude outside of our body, viruses are targeted for a specific tissue out there.
A virus is a way for our bodies to communicate with other living organisms and share genetic information. If my body wants the environment around me to make a gene, it can share my own genetic information with the world around me using viruses! This is how we do genetic communication, through the virum! The protein envelop that the virus genetic information is pocketed in will travel outside of our body via our breath or sweat (we exude viruses out of our body every day). Isn’t it FASCINATING?
At the beginning of life, when the first cells of biology show up on the planet, they start to swap genetic information through a mechanism called horizontal gene transfer that is even simpler than viruses. The cells bump into each other and pass on genetic information to one another. And this happens all the time around us, like in the hospitals we visit or work at at, sometimes with fatal consequences.
Horizontal Gene Transfer: The Hospital Story. What happens is when we pour a large amount of antibiotics in a hospital, trying to sterilize the hospital itself, then trying to sterilize the patients as soon as they come in the door, we start to destroy the ecosystem within the patient (read last week’s blog to understand that our humans organs are not sterile by nature). The bacteria are trying to survive because they know they are the foundation for all of life to survive, including the human in which they live. And so the bacteria start to work quickly to find a solution against the toxin of the antimicrobial solution that was just dumped into the bloodstream or gut, wherever it may be. The bacteria is trying to find genetic variability to try to find a shortcut or an adaptation around that toxin.
When they find the solution – and they always do because there are quadrillions of these guys in the mitochondria, all of them with the abilities to find billions of new genetic sequencing – they start to share it. This is so different from humans’ behavior… as soon as we find a novel solution we quickly go out and copyright it, patent it so that we own it, and we try to restrict access until others buy it from us. We’re so selfish as a species… But the bacteria aren’t like this!
They swap genetic information within the species and between species!! They want everybody to know the adaptation because they know that life survival depends on it. They know that their own life doesn’t depend on themselves but depends on the life of the whole ecosystem, the biodiversity within it surviving. So they share genetic information quickly. All biology does this.
So horizontal gene transfer is what an ICU sudden explosion of Staph infection, MRSA and all the other drug resistant bacteria looks like. They have a foothold because they found the adaptation. Too much penicillin and antibiotics use, the bacteria found the loophole, the adaptation and suddenly passed it on to the whole ICU. And now the ICU is full of people who have this new form of antibiotic resistant Staphyloccocus aureus. And if people don’t have a good and diverse microbiome because they wiped it out with poor diet and lifestyle disconnected from nature, then that new form of bacteria is the only form of bacteria that can survive at the moment. And it starts to set up shop in the body and create what looks like an infection. When it fact it’s just trying to get the “ecosystem soil” within our cells and organs to rebuild. So then we try to kill it with more and more antibiotics and we end up killing the humanity as a whole.
In the last 50 years that we have increased reliance on sterilization and chemicals (in hospitals, of our food, in our homes, on our skin, etc.) has put us in conflict with our very nature, that of a diverse, non-sterile ecosystem within that we have decimated.
Back to the Virum…. With all this being said, this horizontal gene swapping could only get us so far in the bio-diversity of nature, so it had to create the viruses. The viruses allow a single bacterium, or an earthworm, or a pig, or a human, to pass genetic information not to a single cell next door but out to the broad ecosystem at large.
We now know that the air we exhale contains viruses that our body makes all the time, in order to share our genetic information out large and that the bacteria within our bodies also sends them out (they’re called bacteriophage but are identical to viruses, difference being number of cells – 1 for bacteria and multiple for viruses, but same genes and proteins are sent out).
Let’s talk about the scale of the genome that you breathe everyday!
In the air that’s in the planet right now, it is estimated there are 10 to the 31 (1e+31 – It means 31 zeros after the 1) different viruses, new genetic sequences or shared genetic sequences being exuded by all the life on earth. How big a number is that? It is 10 million more than all of the stars in the entire universe. What’s more, it turns out there are 1e+31 different viruses in the ocean water made by plants and all the incredible ocean life. There is also another estimated 1e31 different viruses under our feet, in the dirt, speaking from the earth for us. In your bloodstream, you have 1e15 different viruses right now, with new genetic information, floating in your blood, and coming in and going out of you. You’re a factory of genetic information from the virum!
So the fact we can pick one virus and demonize it saying it will kill all humanity is the wrong model, wrong understanding of how biology works. There is no way one single virus can be a problem for us unless we lose the ecosystem around us and we’ve become so isolated in our human experience that we can no longer stay in relationship to the incredible genetic information coming in.
THIS IS A MINDSET SHIFT: We cannot get an infection unless we are an isolated organism, cut off from its environment. When we fear a virus, we fear one of the building blocks of nature. So much so that of the 20,000 genes we inherited from our parents, 50% were inserted in the human and mammalian genome by viruses and 8% of our genes have been put in our genome by retroviruses like HIV. Another virus we’ve demonized but a class of virus that is uniquely prepared for paradigm leap in biology.
When we go under stress, our body makes new viruses, new genetics adaptation to try to help us survive, and in that process it creates new options for life (aka no more dinosaurs but instead more evolved human species after 5 mass extinctions). Earth never recreates the same old things, instead she strikes back after extinctions with more bio-diversity and higher intelligence because of the virus enabling this evolution! So when we put extinction level stress on a planet, there are more viruses in communication and there’s more potential for new life on the planet than ever before.
“So when we go extinct in this next century, because we failed to understand our role in the environment, and keep destroying nature instead of living within her and co-creating with her, if that is our path, we will leave behind the most complex potential for life that’s ever been on our planet. That’s a cool hospice story” said Zach Push in his lecture.
And that is exemplified by trees in the forest. When a single tree dies and falls in the forest, it becomes life reincarnated. Within one year when you genetically sequence that log, there are over 100,000 species of animals, fungi, thriving in that single log. One life, one species, one genome turns into 100,000 in just 12 months. That’s what life does!
Life is generative at its fabric level, it’s graceful and it’s always beautiful. What kind of beauty is going be on this planet in a million year? We can find out if we co-create with her.
If we start to integrate ourselves back into nature at every level, within the next decade and century, we could start to see an explosion of intelligence within the planet. What would happen to human intelligence if we choose to absorb the virum instead of battle against it? How intelligent can we get?
To Be Continued…. Part III BLOG HERE.