Sunday, 28 December 2014

Stupid Virus

Live and work around the inland waterways, then you are at serious risk of being stupid.

There is an area of research that challenges some of the assumptions we make about ourselves, and that research is into microbiology. Did you know that a person’s gut 'micro-biome' is better at identifying the individual than even their own fingerprints. 

You may have already learnt in biology at school that there are more bacterial cells in your body than human cells. But did you know that the gut microbes powerfully affect our behaviour. Everything can be dictated by the gut microbes, without which you would quickly die. Now new evidence has implicated them in yet another aspect of life. our individual levels of intelligence.

In this case its a virus that is itself associated with micro-organisms. It's an infectious agent called ACTV-1. But this  virus generally attacks algae. The researchers were doing research into the effect of viruses on the brain when they discovered ACTV-1 DNA in several participants’ throats. These participants displayed reliably lower scores on tests of spatial awareness and visual processing. But the more worrying part is of course, people who are more likely to be working near or coming into contact with algae are also more likely to be stupid.

The research team found that the virus was controlling expression of over a thousand genes. Its well known that viruses control gene expression for a number of reasons. One is to end a threat to themselves. Another is to end an alarm signal sent to the body's immune system. But the virus also controls the genes to kick start replication of the virus’s own genome.

This research begs the question. If there are thousands of species of micro-organism in our bodies. If each of these micro-organism comes with associated issues or pests like ACTV-1, then how much of our personalities might be dictated by the subtle interactions. And how effectively could that change your personality?

This study was only possible due to an ongoing large scale analysis of DNA from many, different species conducted at the same time. The so called meta genomic. This allows scientists to take a throat swab, or a soil sample, do large scale analysis on all thousands of species worth of DNA it contains, and then have a computer recombine it all into a sensible listing of species. As we learn how to read and manipulate genetic information more and more powerfully, it’s not only our ourselves we will come to know more intimately. 

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