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History of Mideast Violence & the Human Body as an Ecosystem

• Scientists studying 6,000-year-old skulls recently excavated in Israel and the West Bank found that about 25 percent of them showed evidence of blunt force trauma, or knife or sword wounds. The distribution of the skulls led the scientists to conclude that they resulted from small-scale confrontations rather than war. Their data suggest that Mideast violence is nothing new. It has been going on for centuries – back to when adversaries were armed mainly with clubs and knives. (Science News, Aug. 25, 2012; Hershkovitz et al, International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, [online], July 11, 2012)

• The public is often exposed to the term “ecosystem.” Even scientists sometimes grapple with the exact meaning of the word. Basically, it is meant to describe communities of living things existing in a physical environment within a boundary area. A small ecosystem might be a pond, and a large one a tropical rainforest. Another example would be the Great Lakes ecosystem, or that of the Great Smoky Mountains. Is the human body an ecosystem?

Some scientists believe so.

Trillions of cells make up the human body, but there’s more to us than muscle, skin, liver, and brain cells. By the time an individual reaches young adulthood, about 100 trillion bacteria live inside us, all of which came from our parents and our environment. There exist about 100 large groups of bacteria, and many different kinds occur on and within our body. For instance, the activities of intestinal bacteria result in products that provide us with a nutritional benefit. They release enzymes that chew up carbohydrates to a point where we can absorb and utilize them for energy production, and in some cases they enhance the nutritional value of mother’s milk. In addition, they produce vitamins we need and even play a role in enhancing the immune response.

Looking at the human body as an ecosystem implies a level of interdependence between our gut bacteria and our body cells, and it follows that the state of these bacteria could influence our long-term health. Recent studies provide more evidence supporting this belief. A difference has been found between the mixture of bacteria in obese and thin subjects, and in twins eating the same diets, one twin can be undernourished because of a lack of certain intestinal bacteria. There is evidence that some mixtures of gut bacteria can result in diabetes or heart disease. A possible link was recently reported between multiple sclerosis and intestinal bacteria, and some scientists are looking at the role these bacteria might play not only in multiple sclerosis, but also neurological conditions such as autism, where the gut is especially rich in a certain species of the bacterium Clostridia. The bottom line is that the medical profession is beginning to look at the human body as an ecosystem, and new discoveries are being made as a result. (The Economist, Aug. 18, 2012; other sources)