Until now you have likely thought of yourself as “me,” an individual human of the homo sapiens sapiens variety, a single being trying to make its way in the world. That will change before you reach the end of this article.
What’s more, any thought or fear you may have had that you could be cloned will be removed from your list of possibilities forever. (That reminds me, why did the original of Dolly the sheep, the first large animal that was cloned, not receive any of the credit while Dolly took all the credit and glory? The original sheep that was cloned doesn’t even warrant a name for us.)
Each of us is not just one organism, the way we usually think of ourselves. We are actually a symbiosis of billions of organisms, only one of which has the DNA pattern we associate with ourselves. Our DNA gives us the cells we think of as “us.” Most of the rest are bacteria, good bacteria without which we could not survive. Each has its own DNA that is nothing like our own.
Let’s begin with places that other living things we loosely call germs enter our bodies. The mouth is a very important place to begin because it’s the location where the first battles against invaders that could harm us are fought. We don’t just have saliva in our mouths when we’re not eating. Saliva is the vehicle that carries good bacteria that are our first line of defence against disease. Invading viruses or bacteria could enter our bodies through our mouths at any time.
Okay, we know that if their are going to be battles, they must be fought somewhere. The mouth would be as good a place to fight some as any, right? Not so you’d notice judging by commercials we see on television. How about those mouthwash ads that promise to kill almost every living thing in our mouth if we use it a couple of times every day? That means that we would kill off millions of bacteria in our mouth that are prepared to fight to the death to prevent harmful bacteria and viruses from entering our body.
However much or little you know about military engagements, you would likely agree that it doesn’t make sense to kill off the first companies of soldiers that go into battle on our behalf. That is exactly what those bacteria-killing mouthwashes do.
What do mouthwashes really do that is beneficial? They try to kill collections of fungi that grow on the top of the tongue at the back of the mouth. These fungi are the main causes of bad breath. That’s what you wanted to avoid, right? Yes, but brushing the back of your tongue with your toothbrush just before you finish brushing your teeth and rinsing will do the same thing. The exact same thing. Only the brush will do it better because it can separate those little forests of tongue things and flick away the fungi, whereas the mouthwash may not be that successful.
If you want your first line of defence against disease caused by most kinds of bacteria and viruses to hold fast and keep you healthy, don’t kill it off because you believe the commercials. Big corporations are in business to make money off ignorant people, not to help us maintain good health.
The nose is one of the vulnerable places where germs can enter. Lo and behold, the nose also harbours a boatload of good bacteria to fight disease on our behalf, as well as the mouth. When are the defences of the nose most vulnerable? When the nose gets cold, the bacteria that defend it tend to weaken, to lose their power to fight. They don’t necessarily die, they just go kind of dormant. They are very subject to cold.
Along come the viruses (about 200 different kinds of them) that cause us to develop a “cold.” Have you ever wondered where that word “cold” came from to describe the runny nose, watery eyes and the rest of the discomfort? It came from an event that lowers our defences against cold viruses, getting our nose cold. A cold nose event isn’t the only way to get a cold, nor does having your nose get cold guarantee you will get a viral cold. It’s just a common way for the attack of the cold viruses to begin in our body while its primary defences are weak.
The other common place where cold viruses enter our body is through the eyes. Viruses ride the fluid in our eyes as it swashes around the eyeball, then eventually makes its way into the back of the eye where they find body cells to invade or blood cells that will carry them farther inside. We don’t have many natural defences against invasion through our eyes. But eye fluid is not exactly conducive to growing or transporting live viruses, so having dry eyes is a condition we want to avoid.
Kissing with the tongue, having an open wound and exchanging bodily fluids through sex are other methods by which germs enter our bodies, only in those cases from another person rather than from air, food or liquid. Those practices are not necessarily risky in terms of increasing our vulnerability to disease. In each case we have good bacteria to defend us against invasion by germs and microbes (two words which mean essentially the same thing). We are as apt to get good bacteria from another person as bad bacteria.
While we have bacteria at work in every organ of our bodies, the greatest proliferation of them is in the stomach and gut. Bacteria actually perform the work we call digestion. Without them we could starve to death even if we ate all day long.
Have you ever wondered why some people could eat a mountain of ice cream without gaining an ounce, while another person gains two pounds just from sniffing a cupcake? The one who easily gains weight is “blessed” with a very efficient digestive system, lots of good bacteria that digest as much as possible of the nutrition they eat. The glutton with the beanpole body style has a very inefficient digestive system, not nearly enough good bacteria to help digest the food that passes through. (I know, it ain’t fair.)
Some biologists have estimated that we may have more bacteria in our bodies than we have of our own body cells. While that may sound absurd, remember that just a few years ago very few people believed that anything could live in our bodies other than our own cells. And some bad bacteria and viruses that somehow managed to survive and cause diseases.
That brings us–briefly–to good viruses in our bodies. Are there any? Can a virus be good. As odd as that sounds, remember that just a few years ago (or a couple of minutes ago) you believed that all bacteria were bad. DNA experts tell us that strings of gene patterns in some human chromosomes are identical to gene patterns in some viruses. At some point in our past, some humans have accommodated bad virus genes into their own chromosomes. Now we consider them “natural,” part of our own line of defence.
Medical science isn’t certain if the virus genes within our own chromosomes help to protect us against certain diseases or prevent our immune system from recognizing disease-causing germs because they have genetic material similar to our own. The odds are that both are true, with different people and different diseases. (Doesn’t that confuse the issue!)
We are not subject to some kinds of diseases that other large animals are. And we get a few diseases that other mammals don’t. The reason likely has something to do with those strings of virus genes within our own. Some of us can get HIV/AIDS, while others of us could never contract the disease. Heart disease, cancer and other diseases have difference between people, even of the same family. The difference may be who has what viral gene sequences within their own DNA. And that may depend on which viruses were accommodated and which rejected within each person’s lifetime. It is possible for DNA to change slightly over a lifetime.
As this gene accommodation and rejection of competing genes from viruses is part of human evolution that is going on today, we can’t be certain how it works. Our bodies are still works in progress. We occupy a small section along the production line called life.
As for cloning yourself or cloning anyone else, you can now see that a single organism of DNA could be replicated, but no two could ever have the same combinations of bacterial organisms as each other because their symbiosis would be different. As most of our learning is based on excruciatingly small details we each learn as babies and very young children, no two people with the same DNA could ever be the same either, just as no two identical twins have the same personalities.
Even two people that began life with the same DNA might not be identical as adults because of gene accommodations through their respective lifetimes–that is, they may have different susceptibilities to diseases, for example. Medical science may be able to help us to grow new body parts (we can even grow new brain cells), but the subject of whole body cloning must be left to science fiction writers.
If you take nothing else from this article, at least do yourself a favour and don’t kill off the good bacteria that are helping you to live a healthy life. Without them, you can’t be healthy and eventually you may die from your own misdeeds.
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to raise children who know what is healthy for them and what is not, without using the old trial and error method that made so many people so very sick and even caused their deaths. This stuff is not taught in most schools or homes.
Learn more at http://billallin.com