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If you’ve been in one of my classes on EcoBiotics and DIAD Microscopy, you know that my theory of Enderlein-style progressive pleomorphism, which on its face seems biologically impossible, can be explained by a mechanism in which the timeline of previous microbial devolution within the lineage of a host’s interior ecosystem actually runs in reverse. This gives the impression that microorganisms rapidly undergo something like spontaneous generation, presenting complexity that seemingly comes from out of nowhere. This is part of what Enderlein and others have described and what we see with a DIAD challenge under the microscope. But it’s rejected by mainstream biology and medicine because it seems totally impossible.

In my original paper on the subject, I suggested that this whole process – which I called ambimorphic provolution – is triggered by a prion-like shift from a passive, endogenous alpha-helix protein (the alpha-provon) to an unfolded, beta-sheet conformation (the beta-provon) that acts as a triggering and scaffolding mechanism to direct the reassembly of hidden, cached materials within the terrain to recapitulate prior, cellular states.

I’ve also suggested that some of the massive, filamentous and fractal forms observed in reaction to a DIAD challenge are made of provons attaching to one another, rather than engaging in provolutionary cell synthesis processes, or, at a somewhat lower level of complexity, morphological markers for living cells.

This way of thinking, which I’ve been working on for about 15 years now, is way, way out on a limb. Lynn Margulis’ work on endosymbiosis (the most famous example of which is the bacterial origin of mitochondria), was a real shot in the arm for the basic concept of endo-ecological pleomorphism, but extrapolating the mechanism to biological exotica like prions and endogenous retroviruses is something of a stretch. It has always felt right to me and has beautifully matched thousands of empirical observations but it is still, in essence, a speculative theory.

Well, in that serendipitous way that’s been guiding me for the better part of 2 decades, I have come across 2 new (for me, at least) pieces of information that dovetail with my wildest speculations. First, I didn’t know (and how could I have missed it?) that there exists a quixotic class of fungal prions. And rather than creating disease, these prions are thought by some researchers to actually contribute to the ability of some fungi to rapidly change their behavior in response to environmental cues! In fact, to adapt far more rapidly than genetic, rather than epigenetic, mechanisms would allow. This is EXACTLY what I have been suggesting for the prion-directed dynamics of provons (provolutionary prions).

Furthermore, when the beta-form of these fungal prions link, they create fibrils that can, depending upon how they associate, take on different forms, from filaments to masses…just like my speculation about the provon origin of many types of symplasts observed in the blood, especially in reaction to a DIAD developer. Remember, in my conception the DIAD developers contain alpha-provons which are “sitting ducks,” easily and exponentially corrupted by any matching beta-provons already in the blood. By the way, these prion-like particles are cell-membrane proteins, which might explain part of why DIAD reactions so often alter cell membranes.

 

Fibril formation in response to DIAD challenge with Penicillium roqueforti alpha-provons

Finally (for now at least), the action of these fungal prions is dependent upon their concentration, sometimes leading to paradoxical effects – just like the difference between adding a Sanum remedy to the body (low concentration, leading to the slow, subtle, developmental process of regulator synthesis) vs. adding it to the blood sample on a slide (high concentration, leading to provon-provon interactions which can result in recycler synthesis, or direct massing of converted provons into fibrils or other massive structures).

This is exciting. As usual, where I have taken these ideas is totally different from the context in which other biologists have made their discoveries and done their research. But the shape of the ideas is so similar I find it a real boost to the concept of provolution and the notion that nature can evolve adaptive responses that incorporate these exotic mechanisms.

Two good places to start following up about this are a short article on Wikipedia about fungal prions (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fungal_prions) and an article about the discovery of a way to break down normally protease resistant prions (http://www.wi.mit.edu/news/archives/2004/sl_0520.html ).

If you’re interested, take a look – this is an exciting new avenue to explore – and contact me if you’re interested in pushing the envelope.

The things we notice first are the ones that are the most obvious…even if they turn out to be false or misleading. The Earth is flat, right? I mean, just look at it.

Of course, we all know the Earth is round (or actually, a spheroid oblated at the poles) but that’s only because for centuries, intelligent and inquisitive people have thought intensely about the matter and devised clever experiments to test their ideas. Now, from outer space, we can finally see with our own eyes what in ancient times was obvious only to seekers who invested the time and effort to expand their awareness. Without them, I have no doubt that most of us would still be firmly in the flat Earth camp. It’s just human nature.

Our ability to understand the world cannot shift until we expand the range and depth of our perceptions…and that means giving up attachments to the ways we’re used to looking at things. It means letting go of what we “know” is true – especially things that seem obvious to us like a flat Earth. But making that shift is very hard for most people to do. Quantum physics pioneer Max Planck hit the nail on the head when he said, “Science advances…but only one funeral at a time.”

Every day I come up against entrenched concepts in medicine and biology that are the equivalent of continuing to believe that the Earth is flat. Here’s a good example:

In most cases, when doctors test for an infection they don’t directly look for the causative agent, that is, a virus, bacterium, fungus or parasite. Instead, they look for markers of the immune system’s reaction to the infection. These are specific proteins called antibodies that are, under most circumstances, custom manufactured by the immune system to disrupt the germs that infect us. If doctors don’t find antibodies against a particular germ, they feel confident in concluding that you you’re not infected by it.

Now, the problem with this approach is that any germ that evolves a technique for evading the immune system will also slip under the radar of this kind of testing. Some bacteria, like the corkscrew-shaped Borrelia spirochetes that cause Lyme Disease, are capable of shedding their complex cell walls in favor of a simple membrane. By abandoning their exterior structures and becoming CWDs (Cell Wall Deficient bacterial variants), these clever germs also jettison the surface markers used by the immune system to track them down and produce an antibody response. From the bacterium’s point of view it’s a great way to hide. But by “going stealth” and disappearing off the immune system’s radar screen, these bacteria also hide from standard medical tests.

So when the doctors tells you that, no, in fact you don’t have Lyme Disease, it’s not just a terrible misdiagnosis that could have a ruinous impact on your health. It also means that your health insurance closes the books and won’t pay for treatment. After all, your doctor proved you didn’t have the disease right? From now on, all your symptoms will be considered psychosomatic – a convenient side-shuffle since most insurance policies these days provide, at best, minimal coverage for mental health services.

As a result, you won’t get the treatment you need and will probably wind up bouncing from one practitioner to another in search of a miracle – or at least some kind of relief. And the longer you wait, the harder a condition like Lyme becomes to treat.

Entrenched beliefs are incredibly hard to dislodge. That’s because although we like to think we’re amenable to logic and reason, we human beings are more often motivated by our emotional and instinctual drives. At least unconsciously, most people feel that if they learned something during their arduous training to become a doctor, or a lawyer, or an auto mechanic, a pastry chef or whatever – then by God, they’re going to stick to it. It’s not just about facts and information – our ways of looking at things have become an essential part of how we define ourselves, our work, our community and the value of our lives in the world. And that level of belief doesn’t easily change. Certainly not in the face of something as flimsy as someone else’s unreliable self-reports about their health. After all, they’re just the patient. They didn’t go to medical school.

The classic comedy group, The Firesign Theater, once did an album called, “Everything You Know is Wrong.” I often feel that way when puzzling out biological and medical conundrums. Virtually everything I’ve ever been taught is wrong. But the most insidious conflicts arise when an idea isn’t completely wrong…just misleading.

Before Pasteur “proved” the germ theory of disease, the cause and effect nature of illness was hard to pin down. Doctors talked in terms of vapors and humors and conditions of the spleen. When Pasteur showed that microscopic life forms – germs – are the agents of disease, things got a lot simpler. Doctors could now accurately diagnose conditions like tuberculosis, syphilis and malaria. And even better, chemists could find a “magic bullet” to kill the invading germ.

The germ theory isn’t wrong. Some diseases – especially the acute infections seen on the battlefield or during times of plague – have pretty much this kind of cause and effect relationship with germs and can be treated with biologically toxic, antibiotic medicines. The problem with Pasteur and his pharmaco-chemical legacy is that this obvious truth hides a much larger truth, namely that most human disease, especially in the modern industrialized world, isn’t caused by acute infection. Most chronic, degenerative and auto-immune conditions are a function of biological terrain – the body’s “soil chemistry.”

Pasteur’s simple model of “find the germ and poison it” has led to a philosophy of medicine based on the profound suppression of symptoms. The result is that the actual causative factors of disease are usually driven deeper into the body. In the 1960s, the great German physician Hans Heinrich Reckeweg published the theory of homotoxicology that explains this beautifully.

Reckeweg showed that disease could be understood as the accumulation of toxins as they penetrate into deeper and deeper layers of the body’s many tissue system. He created a highly detailed table showing the types of symptoms that are produced in each region of the body at each deepening level of toxification.

The beauty of Reckeweg’s system is that it also predicts which symptoms will be activated as the body successfully detoxifies and heals itself. In our modern medical culture, the appearance of symptoms is considered a failure of treatment. In Reckeweg’s much saner world, these symptoms are seen as proof of the body’s ability to unwind the disease process as it returns to health.

Of course, I’m fond of saying that in spite of millions of dedicated, compassionate and highly skilled practitioners, we no longer have a health care system. Instead, we have an economic engine that, like any other corporate entity, is focused on maximizing profit. Since profit is derived from tending to illness rather than eliminating it, the business of medicine does what every business tries to do – capture and retain as many customers as possible. In this case, maximum profits are derived from having the largest possible number of people under expensive care for chronic conditions that can be treated but never resolved.

Look around at how the health of our population is sliding down the slippery slope and ask yourself how well the reality corresponds to the corporate medical model. It’s a perfect fit.

OK – so here’s the thing: Everybody know that the “immune system” is essential for keeping us healthy. When it works well, the immune system fights off viruses and bacteria and toxins and keeps our insides working like they should.

But just about anything you read – from kids books to medical school texts – describes the immune system as a vigilant army, poised at the borders of the body ready to blow up anything that tries to get inside.

Well, that’s just not the case – real life is a whole lot more subtle than that. What we call the immune system works at least as much by cooperation and intelligent negotiation as by the kind of violent, militaristic action that’s usually cited.

In fact, we really shouldn’t call it the immune system at all because no living thing on Earth has ever actually been immune from its surroundings. If you closely study living cells you’ll discover that some of the most amazing biological machinery – like the tiny mitochondria that manufacture the chemical energy we need to run our bodies – actually began as external, independent bacteria that entered our ancestors’ bodies and weren’t destroyed. Instead they were tolerated, cultivated, and over eons of time fully integrated into our cells. They became a fundamental part of us and we literally couldn’t survive without them.

Our ability to live and thrive in the world, to have enough energy to develop complex structures and brains and nervous system, to have the physical energy needed to experience thoughts and feelings and write poetry and do art and explore science and build civilizations has its roots in an ancient bacterial infection! Imagine how different life would be if we had truly been “immune” from our surroundings.

So if the “immune system” really isn’t about immunity, then what is it?

In my experience, this set of complex and amazing biological capabilities should actually be called our “integrity system” because that’s exactly what they provide. Isn’t that what every living thing wants? To be able to maintain the biological integrity it needs to live in an environment crowded with other living things, each of which is also trying to maintain its integrity so it can express its own capabilities and purposes?

Life tends towards symbiogenesis – the generation of cooperative, symbiotic relationships. This aspect of life and evolution has been almost totally ignored, except by a few visionary biologists like Dr. Lynn Margulis at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She and her son Dorian Sagan (Margulis was married to the astronomer Carl Sagan) have written wonderful books on the subject and I recommend starting with Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution (Basic Books, March 2000, ISBN-13: 978-0465072729). It’s a great read and lays bare some of the more delightful inner workings of a cooperative world teeming with symbiotic relationships rather than the violent, “dog eat dog” picture we commonly associated with Darwin’s correct but incomplete “survival of the fittest” or Tennyson’s luridly compelling “nature red in tooth and claw.”

So I’ve coined the term “immunecology” to highlight the fact that the integrity of our bodies arises primarily from ecological principles and activities – not from biological warfare. I could have called it something like “integrecology” but that sounds awful and ignores the important fact that pretty much everybody is familiar with some aspects of the immune system.

One last thing before I end this post which I’ll amplify the next time I write…

It’s obviously also true that parts of the immunecology really do work by blowing stuff up. We have amazing systems for detecting “non-self” – that is, things that are not a natural part of the body like viruses and bacteria and parasites and molds and toxins. We maintain a stunningly comprehensive internal encyclopedia of our own cell types, that is, things that shouldn’t be blown up. The body is engaged in a constant dance of protecting “self” and laser-targeting “non-self” to chemically isolate or destroy the stuff we don’t want inside of us. It’s all quite amazing.

But why, if these features were first discovered at the end of the 19th Century and explored throughout the 20th, did we stop there and proclaim “Aha! We’ve discovered the universal source of all disease?” Why didn’t we press further and continue to uncover the complexities and subtlities and weave them into a broader understanding of the living ecosystem within each of us? For one thing, that would have given us a much better understanding of chronic, degenerative and auto-immune conditions and how to treat them.

The reasons turn out to be as much a matter of ego, politics and money as anything in the scientific domain. And to this day, we’re all paying the price through the massive, collective blind-spots shared by nearly the entire medical and biological establishments.

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