I have written before about the work of Dr. Jamie Lorimer, of Oxford University. I was very excited yesterday when a friend sent me his newest paper, which examines the history of the helminth/human relationship[i]
A few favorite parts to share with you:
Well, what we proved capable of is creating our very own epidemic of inflammatory disease.
I love this! Calling our body functions “multi-species processes” could not be more accurate. Digestion, immune functioning, development, etc. are all reliant upon not just our DNA, but those of the trillions of organisms that live in us.
Now, not to depress all of you but the grim-reaper in me can’t resist slipping this passage in here:
“But the modern absence of worms can also push the human holobiont [defined in the paper as “dynamic ecology composed of a multitude of microbial organisms”] over an auto-immune threshold, resulting in microbial dysbiosis and amplified host inflammation. A dystopic figure emerges in this narrative of the defaunated modern human, bereft of its microbial kin and living itchy, depressed, overweight lives that are chronically dependent on expensive and unpleasant regimes of immunosuppressant and anti-inflammatory drugs.”
“Itchy, overweight, depressed lives”…It’s unbelievably accurate all too often, isn’t it?
“Humankind eventually needs to move beyond the idea that helminths are best used as a drug or a therapy. Rather, we need to embrace the view that helminths are a necessary component of the ecosystem of a healthy body, and that helminths should be cultivated for population-wide biota restoration. Attempts to develop helminth-derived drugs are, by intent, designed to treat disease, not to restore health to the population. As such, efforts to produce helminth-derived drugs will not help achieve the long-term goals of disease prevention, and may indeed provide a distraction from such goals as they divert resources that could be used for biota-based restoration and maintenance. ”
The fact that mankind evolved as, and remains, a holobiont is not controversial. But what native species should reside in us is still a hotly debated question. If I had to put money on it, I’m going with “Mother Nature knows best.”
[i] Lorimer, J. Hookworms Make Us Human: the Microbiome, Eco-immunology, and a Probiotic Turn in Western Health Care. Medical Anthropology Quarterly. 2018 Jul 13. doi: 10.1111/maq.12466.