Monday, September 9, 2019

#252 / Meet Your Microbiome

For every cell in your body, there’s another tiny single-celled creature that also calls your body home. Far from being germs we should eradicate, these ancient friends allow us to digest food, breathe air, and fight off disease. They were here long before us and will undoubtedly remain long after we’re gone. They are our microbiome ...

The illustration above, and the quotation that follows, are from a website advertisement for a conference presentation that was made in June, 2018, at the World Science Festival. Both the illustration and the quotation suggest that human beings are not really distinct from, and unconnected to, the incredibly complex Worldwide Web of Nature that sustains all life. 

It has always been our human tendency to see human beings as distinct from all other forms of life. Animals, plants, microorganisms and whatever: we're different! We are more important, and "better," too!

It appears that we may have been seriously wrong about some of our fundamental ideas about who we are! "We" are a complex mix of human genetic material and independently-existing organisms. We can't really go it alone. 

A fabulously wealthy tech-guy, whose headquarters erection now dominates the San Francisco skyline (see below), has decided it would be good for humans to get a better handle on the microbiome, all the better to manipulate it for what we, as human beings, decide is in our best interest. The high-tech guy to whom I refer is Marc Benioff, founder, Chairman, and Co-CEO of Salesforce. He and his wife Lynne have recently given $35 million to UCSF and Stanford. The objective is to spur research on how we can manipulate the microbiome to achieve therapeutic results.

Thinking of "science" as the front door to useful technologies that can benefit human beings is the way we usually think of it. There is another approach to science, however, and that is to see "science" as a window onto the wonder of life itself. We might best practice science not to gain power over Nature but to behold its splendor and majesty. As we meet our microbiome we are finding out that "we" are not the persons we thought we were. This deserves some "wonder," I think, before we start trying to make technical changes to this mysterious web of life that we have clearly not really understood up until now. 

A quest to "understand," which is at the root of all science, inevitably begins with our "standing under," looking up, as at the stars, and simply beholding reality in all its mystery and majesty. I am thinking that we should probably meet our microbiome in this spirit of wonder, and not in an immediate effort to manipulate it through technique. 

The effort to achieve human domination, our immediate instinct, expresses itself in a visually impressive way in the Salesforce Tower on the San Francisco skyline. But there is another approach to Nature and to life. Wonder, not an effort to dominate, is perhaps our better option.

Since my visit to Assisi, I am tempted to say: "Marc, let me introduce you to my good friend Francis!"

The Salesforce Tower

Image Credits:
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