The origin of animals on planet Earth has long been a mystery, however a new study, which examined 650 million-year-old rocks, claims to finally answer the age-old question.
A research team from the Australian National University (ANU) studied ancient molecules buried in the rocks and discovered that a very particular set of circumstances led to the origin of life on our planet.
It all started about 700 million years ago when the world was covered in ice, a period called “Snowball Earth.”
“The Earth was frozen over for 50 million years,” explains ANU Associate Professor Jochen Brocks.
“Huge glaciers ground entire mountain ranges to powder that released nutrients, and when the snow melted during an extreme global heating event rivers washed torrents of nutrients into the ocean.”
This abundance of nutrients triggered the key moment for the development of life on Earth – the rise of algae.
Dr Brocks said this extraordinary algae bloom kicked off a “revolution of ecosystems” which was “one of the most profound ecological revolutions in Earth’s history.”
The extremely high levels of nutrients in the ocean, and cooling of global temperatures, created the perfect conditions for the rapid spread of algae.
This led to a dramatic shift where the oceans went from being dominated by bacteria to a world inhabited by more complex life.
The phenomenon was so critical that humans and other animals would simply not exist had it not taken place, the researchers point out.
“These large and nutritious organisms at the base of the food web provided the burst of energy required for the evolution of complex ecosystems, where increasingly large and complex animals, including humans, could thrive on Earth,” Dr Brocks said.
The research is published in Nature, and the team’s findings will be presented at a conference in Paris next week.
I don’t know about you, but just the thought of this concept gives me the heebie jeebies. Are the parasites that are so commonly found within our bodies capable of influencing our thoughts and thereby our actions, too? This is no doubt a scary thought that you might want to dismiss outright, but consider an obvious way they could be controlling us on some level: causing food cravings. Often, when people have parasites in their gut, they are eating many foods that are for the parasite, and what the parasite wants, not what they actually want. This is one subtler example of how a parasite can influence our thoughts and actions.
At least one third of the world’s population may have a parasitic infection that scientists believe to have an impact on human behaviour. The protozoan parasite, called Toxoplasma gondii, has been long considered to be an “asymptomatic” parasite in humans. However, lab tests and a new report suggest that it may actually cause and/or intensify severe forms of schizophrenia, impact how human hormones are secreted in the brain, and even instigate personality changes.This parasite specifically thrives in rats and reproduces in house cats, tricking rats into putting themselves into harm’s way.
“The parasite grows in a rodent, but it needs to get into a cat somehow to reproduce,” says Shelley Adamo, a biologist who studies neuroparasitology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada. “When a rat becomes infected, the parasite somehow makes rats become attracted to cat urine, when it would normally avoid it.”
Estimates from the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) suggest that more than 60 million Americans carry the single-celled parasite, most often obtained through ingesting undercooked meat or interacting with cats. The CDC claims that “of those who are infected very few have symptoms because a healthy person’s immune system usually keeps the parasite from causing illness.” This new information may force scientists to reconsider that statement, however.
New Research on Parasites
A study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology by Jaroslav Flegr, a scientist at Charles University in Prague, suggests that people who are infected with this parasite have slower reaction times and are often “less altruistic” than uninfected people.
Researchers determined that women who were infected with Toxoplasma “more often report that diplomacy is not their strong point” and that “some people have the power to impose their will on others with hypnosis.” They also described women having “a weak instinct for self-preservation: in situations where somebody else might be afraid, for example being alone in a forest or in an empty house at night, they remain calm.”
Flegr acknowledges that they “cannot distinguish whether the observed changes are manifestations of the manipulative activity or only symptoms of the chronic disease” often caused by Toxoplasma, but Toxoplasma infection’s prevalence, nevertheless, makes it an ideal “model for studying manipulative activity in humans.” There are a “large number of parasitic organisms … that may influence the human host even more than the Taxoplasma,” he continues.
Senior Lecturer in Biology, Brunel University London
Aug 7, 2017
Creating a huge global network connecting billions of individuals might be one of humanity’s greatest achievements to date, but microbes beat us to it by more than three billion years. These tiny single-celled organisms aren’t just responsible for all life on Earth. They also have their own versions of the World Wide Web and the Internet of Things. Here’s how they work.
Much like our own cells, microbes treat pieces of DNA as coded messages. These messages contain information for assembling proteins into molecular machines that can solve specific problems, such as repairing the cell. But microbes don’t just get these messages from their own DNA. They also swallow pieces of DNA from their dead relatives or exchange them with living mates.
These DNA pieces are then incorporated into their genomes, which are like computers overseeing the work of the entire protein machinery. In this way, the tiny microbe is a flexible learning machine that intelligently searches for resources in its environment. If one protein machine doesn’t work, the microbe tries another one. Trial and error solve all the problems.
But microbes are too small to act on their own. Instead, they form societies. Microbes have been living as giant colonies, containing trillions of members, from the dawn of life. These colonies have even left behind mineral structures known as stromatolites. These are microbial metropolises, frozen in time like Pompeii, that provide evidence of life from billions of years ago.
Microbial colonies are constantly learning and adapting. They emerged in the oceans and gradually conquered the land – and at the heart of their exploration strategy was information exchange. As we’ve seen, individual members communicate by exchanging chemical messages in a highly coordinated fashion. In this way, microbial society effectively constructs a collective “mind”.
This collective mind directs pieces of software, written in DNA code, back and forth between trillions of microbes with a single aim: to fully explore the local environment for resources using protein machines.
When resources are exhausted in one place, microbial expedition forces advance to find new lands of plenty. They transmit their discoveries back to base using different kinds of chemical signals, calling for microbial society to transform from settlers to colonisers.
In this way, microbes eventually conquered the entire planet, creating a global microbial network that resembles our own World Wide Web but using biocehmical signals instead of electronic digital ones. In theory, a signal emitted in waters around the South Pole could effectively travel fast to waters around the North Pole.
Internet of living things
The similarities with human technology don’t stop there. Scientists and engineers are now working on expanding our own information network into the Internet of Things, integrating all manner of devices by equipping them with microchips to sense and communicate. Your fridge will be able to alert you when it is out of milk. Your house will be able to tell you when it is being burgled.
Microbes built their version of the Internet of Things a long time ago. We can call it the “Internet of Living Things”, although it’s more often known as the biosphere. Every organism on the planet is linked in this complex network that depends on microbes for its survival.
More than a billion years ago, one microbe found its way inside another microbe that became its host. These two microbes became a symbiotic hybrid known as the eukaryotic cell, the basis for most of the lifeforms we are commonly familiar with today. All plants and animals are descended from this microbial merger and so they contain the biological “plug-in” software that connects them to the Internet of Living Things.
For example, humans are designed in a way that means we cannot function without the trillions of microbes inside our bodies (our microbiome) that help us do things like digest food and develop immunity to germs. We are so overwhelmed by microbes that we imprint personal microbial signatures on every surface we touch.
The Internet of Living Things is a neat and beautifully functioning system. Plants and animals live on the ecological waste created by microbes. While to microbes, all plants and animals are, as author Howard Bloom puts it, “mere cattle on whose flesh they dine”, whose bodies will be digested and recycled one day.
Microbes are even potential cosmic tourists. If humans travel into deep space, our microbes will travel with us. The Internet of Living Things may have a long cosmic reach.
The paradox is that we still perceive microbes as inferior organisms. The reality is that microbes are the invisible and intelligent rulers of the biosphere. Their global biomass exceeds our own. They are the original inventors of the information-based society. Our internet is merely a by-product of the microbial information game initiated three billion years ago.
“Journalists…suspect that the local population is suffering from the spread of Cynthia, the runaway flesh eating bacteria that was bred on demand by BP (British Petroleum) to combat its major oil spill in the same area back in 2010.”
“The fact that Cynthia was created in secret US laboratories only to be unleashed in the region without any prior studies into the possible consequences has already been reported.”
The Alabama Department of Public Health has recently announced that has observed a new pandemic involving a potentially deadly flesh eating virus spreading like wild fire in the Gulf of Mexico area. The majority of those infected were swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, and had minor cuts or bruisers or ate raw seafood from this area. Upon infecting a human being the so-called vibrio compromises kidney and liver functions before spreading further.
It’s been reported that symptoms include nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, blisters around the wounded areas infected, swelling and redness. American health officials claim that 80% of the time, if people receive medical assistance within the first 24 hours of infection, they should be fine. They suggest treating the affected area immediately after contamination, including thoroughly washing the area with soap and water and disinfecting it with rubbing alcohol. However, this infection is highly resistant to antibiotics and if a person infected fails to seek medical assistance within the above mentioned time window, chances of surviving the so-called vibrio in most cases barely reaches 50%.
However, it’s rarely reported that if a person was infected via cuts or bruisers on their limb, the infected areas are transformed into un-treatable swelling ulcers that force medical practitioners to amputate the infected limb in a bid to save the patient’s life. Colonies of this bacteria grow rapidly in warm water, so the majority of infection cases occur in summer. Those who are living along the Gulf of Mexico coastline are increasingly concerned for their well being, no longer eating raw seafood and avoiding the seashore altogether. Local health authorities have reported dozens of cases this year alone.
However, there’s a number of journalists that remain convinced that those who were infected by a flesh eating bacteria are not suffering from the relatively harmless Vibrio Vulnificus, instead they suspect that the local population is suffering from the spread of Cynthia, the runaway flesh eating bacteria that was bred on demand by BP (British Petroleum) to combat its major oil spill in the same area back in 2010.
The fact that Cynthia was created in secret US laboratories only to be unleashed in the region without any prior studies into the possible consequences has already been reported. It’s clear now that oil spills were only the beginning, since now this bacteria is eating sea creatures and humans alike. The artificially created monster leaves little chance for survival to fish or seals, leaving both covered in swelling ulcers within hours after entering an infected area.
“Cynthia” is a synthetic bacteria, an artificial organism with an artificially engineered genome. Such artificial cells are rapidly multiplying, due to the properties of self-reproduction that were provided during the early stages of their design.
It’s curious that the entire coastline of the Gulf of Mexico is now covered with brownish,oily balls. According to a local chemist Bob Naman, those would infect anyone unfortunate enough to break them with their unprotected hands or would otherwise contact them. Should a person have an open wound, the contents of the ball will go straight into one’s system, warns the scientist.
A local blogger and activist, Alexander Higgins has cited a study conducted by to Columbia University, according to which after the oil spill in 2010, 40% of residents residing near the Gulf of Mexico acquired respiratory and skin diseases, and one in four thinks of leaving their current place of residence.
Cases of massive bird deaths, like the ones in Arkansas and New Orleans, just like massive fish deaths in the same region, are usually associated by the American media with Cynthia. However, when people become covered in ulcers only to die in agony after swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, they are being described as the victims of an unknown decease. Those infected have little chance of survival since Cynthia compromises their internal organs, causing profuse internal bleeding and death. Yet, the true scale of the tragedy remains hidden, while any mentions of human deaths caused by Cynthia are being suppressed at a governmental level.
Jean Périer is an independent researcher and analyst and a renowned expert on the Near and Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook“.
About 4 million years ago, a cave was forming in the Delaware Basin of what is now Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico. From that time on, Lechuguilla Cave remained untouched by humans or animals until its discovery in 1986—an isolated, pristine primeval ecosystem.
When the bacteria found on the walls of Lechuguilla were analyzed, many of the microbes were determined not only to have resistance to natural antibiotics like penicillin, but also to synthetic antibiotics that did not exist on earth until the second half of the twentieth century. As infectious disease specialist Brad Spellberg put it in the New England Journal of Medicine, “These results underscore a critical reality: antibiotic resistance already exists, widely disseminated in nature, to drugs we have not yet invented.”
The origin story of antibiotics is well known, almost mythic, and antibiotics, along with the other basic public health measures, have had a dramatic impact on the quality and longevity of our modern life. When ordinary people called penicillin and sulfa drugs miraculous, they were not exaggerating. These discoveries ushered in the age of antibiotics, and medical science assumed a lifesaving capability previously unknown.
Note that we use the word discoveries rather than inventions. Antibiotics were around many millions of years before we were. Since the beginning of time, microbes have been competing with other microbes for nutrients and a place to call home. Under this evolutionary stress, beneficial mutations occurred in the “lucky” and successful ones that resulted in the production of chemicals—antibiotics—to inhibit other species of microbes from thriving and reproducing, while not compromising their own survival. Antibiotics are, in fact, a natural resource—or perhaps more accurately, a natural phenomenon—that can be cherished or squandered like any other gift of nature, such as clean and adequate supplies of water and clean air.
Equally natural, as Lechuguilla Cave reminds us, is the phenomenon of antibiotic resistance. Microbes move in the direction of resistance in order to survive. And that movement, increasingly, threatens our survival.
With each passing year, we lose a percentage of our antibiotic firepower. In a very real sense, we confront the possibility of revisiting the Dark Age where many infections we now consider routine could cause severe illness, when pneumonia or a stomach bug could be a death sentence, when a leading cause of mortality in the United States was tuberculosis.
The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) determined that, left unchecked, in the next 35 years antimicrobial resistance could kill 300,000,000 people worldwide and stunt global economic output by $100 trillion. There are no other diseases we currently know of except pandemic influenza that could make that claim. In fact, if the current trend is not altered, antimicrobial resistance could become the world’s single greatest killer, surpassing heart disease or cancer.
In some parts of the United States, about 40 percent of the strains of Streptococcus pneumonia, which the legendary nineteenth and early twentieth century physician Sir William Osler called “the captain of the men of death,” are now resistant to penicillin. And the economic incentives for pharmaceutical companies to develop new antibiotics are not much brighter than those for developing new vaccines. Like vaccines, they are used only occasionally, not every day; they have to compete with older, extremely cheap generic versions manufactured overseas; and to remain effective, their use has to be restricted rather than promoted.
As it is, according to the CDC, each year in the United States at least 2,000,000 people become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria and at least 23,000 people die as a direct result of these infections. More people die each year in this country from MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, often picked up in hospitals) than from AIDS.
If we can’t—or don’t—stop the march of resistance and come out into the sunlight, what will a post-antibiotic era look like? What will it actually mean to return to the darkness of the cave?
Without effective and nontoxic antibiotics to control infection, any surgery becomes inherently dangerous, so all but the most critical, lifesaving procedures therefore would be complex risk-benefit decisions. You’d have a hard time doing open-heart surgery, organ transplants, or joint replacements, and there would be no more in vitro fertilization. Caesarian delivery would be far more risky. Cancer chemotherapy would take a giant step backwards, as would neonatal and regular intensive care. For that matter, no one would go into a hospital unless they absolutely had to because of all the germs on floors and other surfaces and floating around in the air. Rheumatic fever would have lifelong consequences. TB sanitaria could be back in business. You could just about do a post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie on the subject.
To understand why antibiotic resistance is rapidly increasing and what we need to do to avert this bleak future and reduce its impact, we have to understand the Big Picture of how it happens, where it happens, and how it’s driven by use in humans and animals.
Think of an American couple, both of who work fulltime. One day, their 4-year-old son wakes up crying with an earache. Either mom or dad takes the child to the pediatrician, who has probably seen a raft of these earaches lately and is pretty sure it’s a viral infection. There is no effective antiviral drug available to treat the ear infection. Using an antibiotic in this situation only exposes other bacteria that the child may be carrying to the drug and increases the likelihood that an antibiotic resistant strain of bacteria will win the evolutionary lottery. But the parent knows that unless the child has been given a prescription for something, the daycare center isn’t going to take him and neither partner can take off from work. It doesn’t seem like a big deal to write an antibiotic prescription to solve this couple’s dilemma, even if the odds the antibiotic is really called for are minute.
While the majority of people understand that antibiotics are overprescribed and therefore subject to mounting resistance, they think the resistance applies to them, rather than the microbes. They believe that if they take too many antibiotics – whatever that unknown number might be—they will become resistant to the agents, so if they are promoting a risk factor, it is only for themselves rather than for the entire community.
Doctors, of course, understand the real risk. Are they culpable to the charge of over- and inappropriately prescribing antibiotics? In too many cases, the answer is Yes.
Summary: A new study reports Parkinson’s disease and some of the medications used to treat the condition have distinct effects on the bacteria that make up the gut microbiome.
Source: University of Alabama at Birmingham.
There is growing evidence showing a connection between Parkinson’s disease — a neurodegenerative condition — and the composition of the microbiome of the gut. A new study from researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham shows that Parkinson’s disease, and medications to treat Parkinson’s, have distinct effects on the composition of the trillions of bacteria that make up the gut microbiome.
The findings were published in February in Movement Disorders, the journal of the International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society.
“Our study showed major disruption of the normal microbiome ¬ — the organisms in the gut — in individuals with Parkinson’s,” said Haydeh Payami, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Neurology, in the UAB School of Medicine.
Payami says, at this point, researchers do not know which comes first. Does having Parkinson’s cause changes in an individual’s gut microbiome, or are changes in the microbiome a predictor or early warning sign of Parkinson’s? What is known is that the first signs of Parkinson’s often arise as gastrointestinal symptoms such as inflammation or constipation.
“The human gut hosts tens of trillions of microorganisms, including more than 1,000 species of bacteria,” she said. “The collective genomes of the microorganisms in the gut is more than 100 times larger than the number of genes in the human genome. We know that a well-balanced gut microbiota is critical for maintaining general health, and alterations in the composition of gut microbiota have been linked to a range of disorders.”
Payami’s team studied 197 patients with Parkinson’s and 130 controls. Subjects came from Seattle, New York and Atlanta.
The study indicated that Parkinson’s is accompanied by imbalance in the gut microbiome. Some species of bacteria were present in larger numbers than in healthy individuals; other species were diminished. Different medications used to treat Parkinson’s also appear to affect the composition of the microbiome in different ways.
“It could be that, in some people, a drug alters the microbiome so that it causes additional health problems in the form of side effects,” Payami said. “Another consideration is that the natural variability in the microbiome could be a reason some people benefit from a given drug and others are unresponsive. The growing field of pharmacogenomics — tailoring drugs based on an individual’s genetic makeup — may need to take the microbiome into consideration.”
The study subjects came from three regions, the Northeast, Northwest and South. Payami says the research team detected an unexpected difference in gut imbalance as a function of geographic site, which may reflect the environmental, lifestyle and diet differences between the three regions.
Another function of the microbiome is to help the body rid itself of xenobiotics — chemicals not naturally found in the body often arising from environmental pollutants. The study found evidence that the composition of bacteria responsible for removing those chemicals was different in individuals with Parkinson’s. This may be relevant because exposure to pesticides and herbicides in agricultural settings is known to increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s.
Payami says the study of the microbiome is a relatively new field, and a better understanding of macrobiotics may provide unexpected answers for Parkinson’s disease and potentially other disorders.
A better understanding of macrobiotics may provide unexpected answers for Parkinson’s disease and potentially other disorders. NeuroscienceNews.com image is adapted from the UAB press release.
“This opens up new horizons, a totally new frontier,” she said. “There are implications here for both research and treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Therapies that regulate the imbalance in the microbiome may prove to be helpful in treating or preventing the disease before it affects neurologic function.” However, Payami cautions against grand conclusions until more data are available.
Payami says another study is underway at UAB with individuals with Parkinson’s and healthy individuals in Alabama in an effort to replicate and confirm the results.
“The present findings lend support to the notion that the composition of the gut microbiome may hold new information for assessing efficacy and toxicity of Parkinson’s medications,” Payami said. “Additional studies are needed to assess the effects of those drugs, with larger numbers of treated and untreated patients as well as individuals who do not have Parkinson’s.”
About this Parkinson’s disease research article
Funding: Funding support for the study was provided by National Institutes of Health.
Source: Brian Mullen – University of Alabama at Birmingham Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is adapted from the UAB press release. Original Research:Abstract for “Parkinson’s disease and Parkinson’s disease medications have distinct signatures of the gut microbiome” by Erin M. Hill-Burns PhD, Justine W. Debelius PhD, James T. Morton BS, William T. Wissemann BA, Matthew R. Lewis MS, Zachary D. Wallen MS, Shyamal D. Peddada PhD, Stewart A. Factor DO, Eric Molho MD, Cyrus P. Zabetian MD, MS, Rob Knight PhD, and Haydeh Payami PhD in Movement Disorders. Published online February 14 2017 doi:10.1002/mds.26942
A gene that confers resistance to colistin, the “antibiotic of last resort,” is alarmingly widespread in China, according to two separate studies published in The Lancet on January 27.
The drug-resistance gene in question, MCR-1 was first identified in China in 2015, in Escherichia coli (more commonly known as E. coli) bacteria in pigs, pork, and a handful of human patients. Since then, the gene has turned up in 30 other countries, including the United States. It renders bacteria immune to one of the few antibiotics that can still be used against multidrug resistant superbugs.
“This is a warning shot about the possible scenario where we don’t have very much left in the armory to treat infections,” said Nigel Brown of Britain’s Microbiology Society.
Gene already spreading to superbugs
In the first study, researchers collected more than 17,000 samples from patients with gut bacteria infections at two hospitals in Zhejiang and Guangdong from 2007 to 2015. Overall, they found that about 1 percent of the infectious bacteria sampled contained the MCR-1 gene. The gene was more common in E. coli, with a frequency of 1.4 percent. Notably, the prevalence of MCR-1 in E. coli increased over the study period.
The researchers found that people with a recent history of antibiotic use were significantly more likely to be infected with MCR-1 positive E. coli. There was no increased risk associated with living near a farm, even though colistin has been widely used in Chinese agriculture. This suggests that MCR-1 is likely spreading between bacteria, rather than MCR-1 positive bacteria merely spreading through asexual reproduction.
This mode of transmission is particularly worrisome because it is faster and also makes it more likely that MCR-1 will cross to other strains and species of bacteria, including those already resistant to other antibiotics. This could easily produce a superbug resistant to all known human antibiotics.
This has already started occurring in China, the second study found. In that study, researchers screened more than 2,000 bacterial samples from bloodstream infection patients at 28 Chinese hospitals from 2013 to 2014. They found that about 1.3 percent of E. coli samples were positive for MCR-1; a similar rate to the first study. This indicated that MCR-1 has already spread across China, and may be spreading through contaminated medical equipment.
Significantly, many of the positive samples were of a strain known as ST131, which is already multidrug resistant. E. coli ST131 is a major cause of urinary tract infections worldwide.
“Nightmare bacteria” in our future
Many researchers have blamed the rapid spread of MCR-1 on China’s widespread use of colistin as a growth-promoter for livestock. China finally banned the drug from animal feed in 2016, but it may be too late to stop the gene’s spread. And while MCR-1 remains relatively rare in bacteria that infect humans, the bacterial ability to swap DNA between unrelated species likely makes it only a matter of time before the gene crosses to more common human infectious agents.
“It now looks like there’s potential for the resistance gene to move around and spread between different species of bacteria,” Brown said.
And now that colistin has been approved in China for human use, the spread of colistin-resistance is expected to accelerate.
A preview of what this might look like came in August, when the CDC analyzed samples of the Klebsiella pneumoniae bacteria that had killed a 70-year-old Reno woman from blood poisoning. They found that the bacteria were resistant to all 26 antibiotics approved for use in human beings, including “colistin.” The CDC dubbed the strain a “nightmare bacteria.”
Experts are warning with increasing urgency that unless dramatic changes are made to antibiotic prescribing practices, including curtailing the use of drugs in agriculture, we may soon enter a post-antibiotic era. This would render currently routine medical procedures such as surgery and cancer treatment so unsafe as to be impossible.