Sunday, December 16, 2012

Hypothesis: The Cultural Amygdala

Visual Aid: The Human Amygdala (red area)
On this blog regular readers know that we have discussed the physical Amygdala several times.

If you care to review some of that material, see e.g. the series Hypothesis: Microbes Generate Toxins of Power through Hypothesis: Microbes Generate Toxins of Power - 6, as well as The Toxic Bridge To Everywhere and A Structure RE: Corruption of Memes - 3.

Today, I will go beyond the content of those posts, which contemplated only "the physical Amygdala", to further develop a hypothesis concerning a structure that has been called "the cultural Amygdala" (see Agnotology: The Surge - 2).

The red areas in the graphic above help to depict the two "almond shaped" physical portions of the physical Amygdala in the human brain, while the blue lines attached to it, and winding out from it, are merely additional visual aids for contemplating the concept of the cultural Amygdala (see video below for exact location of the physical amygdala).

In today's post, I will argue that there is a cultural Amygdala, which is a complex web of brain circuits that constitute an "extension" of the physical brain's physical Amygdala.

I use the word "extension", because this hypothetical cultural Amygdala is attached to the physical Amygdala, in the sense that the cultural Amygdala's circuits originate and/or pass through the physical Amygdala, yet extend out into other brain sections as well (e.g. see Hypothesis: The Cultural Amygdala - 3 for connection to the frontal lobe).

I will argue that the cultural Amygdala circuitry is created over a lifetime by the culture one is born and raised in, that is, the beliefs, education, behaviors, and experiences that culture presents to those within it:
We found that amygdala volume correlates with the size and complexity of social networks in adult humans. An exploratory analysis of subcortical structures did not find strong evidence for similar relationships with any other structure, but there were associations between social network variables and cortical thickness in three cortical areas, two of them with amygdala connectivity. These findings indicate that the amygdala is important in social behavior.
(Amygdala Volume and Social Network Size, emphasis added). We begin the basic structure of the hypothesis with the physical Amygdala, set forth in some of the posts linked to above, plus another hint of a cultural Amygdala:
Michael Skinner has just uttered an astounding sentence, but by now he is so used to slaying scientific dogma that his listener has to interrupt and ask if he realizes what he just said. Which was this: “We just published a paper last month confirming epigenetic changes in sperm which are carried forward transgenerationally. This confirms that these changes can become permanently programmed.”

... the life experiences of grandparents and even great-grandparents alter their eggs and sperm so indelibly that the change is passed on to their children, grandchildren, and beyond. It’s called transgenerational epigenetic inheritance: the phenomenon in which something in the environment alters the health not only of the individual exposed to it, but also of that individual’s descendants.
(Sins of the Grandfathers, bold added). That "something in the environment" is the cultural dynamics that every individual is exposed to, yet the "something" varies from group to group (see e.g. Agnotology: The Surge - 3).

It varies from individual to individual, within the same culture, to a lesser degree (see Making Sense of — and Progress in — the American Culture War of Fact, PDF).

According to Skinner, above, some of those impacts of the environment of culture may, in whole or in part, in some cases even be passed on to their progeny.

Over one's lifetime, a cultural Amygdala that is specific to the culture an individual and their descendants are exposed to, is constructed in the brain.

The circuits that comprise the cultural Amygdala have various degrees of permanence, which determines whether they last generations or whether they dissipate in some degree even in one generation.

That is a fundamental difference between the cultural Amygdala and the physical Amygdala, the former is more temporary while the latter is more permanent.

For example, let's hone in on that by recognizing for the moment that a person raised in Mississippi on a small farm, then living there through adulthood, will have a different social awareness and cultural Amygdala when compared to a person who is raised and lives their life in the art district of Paris, France.

The more temporary nature of the cultural Amygdala could be envisioned by imagining that the two individuals, one from Paris and one from Mississippi, were relocated in their teens, the person in Paris relocated to a small farm in Mississippi, and the person in Mississippi relocated to the art district in Paris.

The cultural Amygdala hypothesis would predict, upon relocation, a change over time in the cultural Amydala of both individuals as a result of being placed into very different cultures from the one they experienced through their teen years:
Thought is physical. Learning requires a physical brain change: Receptors for neurotransmitters change at the synapses, which changes neural circuitry. Since thinking is the activation of such circuitry, somewhat different thinking re­quires a somewhat different brain. Brains change as you use them-even unconsciously. It's as if your car changed as you drove it, say from a stick shift gradually to an automatic.
(The Toxic Bridge To Everywhere, quoting Dr. Lakoff). Nevertheless, the cultural Amygdala hypothesis would also predict that the physical Amygdala, by comparison, would experience little to no change.

An additional example of the more temporary nature of the circuits in the cultural Amygdala is illustrated by the following dynamics:
A group of US marketing researchers claim that brand owners can make their customers believe they had a better experience of a product or service than they really did by bombarding them with positive messages after the event. Advocates of the technique, known as "memory morphing", claim it can be used to improve customers' perceptions of products and encourage them to repeat their purchases and recommend brands to friends.

"When asked, many consumers insist that they rely primarily on their own first-hand experience with products – not advertising – in making purchasing decisions. Yet, clearly, advertising can strongly alter what consumers remember about their past, and thus influence their behaviours," he writes in his book, How Customers Think. He says that memories are malleable, changing every time they come to mind, and that brands can use this to their advantage. "What consumers recall about prior product or shopping experiences will differ from their actual experiences if marketers refer to those past experiences in positive ways," he continues.
(Memory Morphing in Advertising, emphasis added; cf. Our Changeable Memory). The hypothetical cultural Amygdala circuitry is malleable to the degree of being subject to relatively weak external input in the form of marketing suggestion and stimuli, which, to the contrary the physical Amygdala would not be.

The following case of an invasion of the physical Amygdala by toxoplasma gondii also engenders the inquiry "which Amygdala is being affected?" by that parasite:
Next, we then saw that Toxo would take the dendrites, the branch and cables that neurons have to connect to each other, and shriveled them up in the amygdala. It was disconnecting circuits. You wind up with fewer cells there. This is a parasite that is unwiring this stuff in the critical part of the brain for fear and anxiety... It knows how to find that particular circuitry... Meanwhile, there is a well-characterized circuit that has to do with sexual attraction. And as it happens, part of this circuit courses through the amygdala, which is pretty interesting in and of itself, and then goes to different areas of the brain than the fear pathways... Toxo knows how to hijack the sexual reward pathway.
On a certain level, this is a protozoan parasite that knows more about the neurobiology of anxiety and fear than 25,000 neuroscientists standing on each other's shoulders... But no doubt it's also a tip of the iceberg of God knows what other parasitic stuff is going on out there. Even in the larger sense, God knows what other unseen realms of biology make our behavior far less autonomous than lots of folks would like to think.
(A Talk With Dr. Sapolsky, emphasis added). The argument can be made that the parasitic invasion affects both Amygdalas (physical & cultural), or either one individually, depending on the severity and target of the invasion by those toxoplasma parasites (but the obvious default primary suspect is the physical Amygdala).

Either way, the cases above support the hypothesis that we have a malleable cultural Amygdala, and in some cases a malleable physical Amygdala, even though the latter is not as malleable in any significant degree.

This hypothetical cultural Amygdala is also "weaker" than the physical Amygdala, if the following case is instructive:
... [Whitman] killed a receptionist with the butt of his rifle. Two families of tourists came up the stairwell; he shot at them at point-blank range. Then he began to fire indiscriminately from the deck at people below. The first woman he shot was pregnant. As her boyfriend knelt to help her, Whitman shot him as well. He shot pedestrians in the street and an ambulance driver who came to rescue them.

The evening before, Whitman had sat at his typewriter and composed a suicide note:
I don’t really understand myself these days. I am supposed to be an average reasonable and intelligent young man. However, lately (I can’t recall when it started) I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts.
By the time the police shot him dead, Whitman had killed 13 people and wounded 32 more. The story of his rampage dominated national headlines the next day. And when police went to investigate his home for clues, the story became even stranger: in the early hours of the morning on the day of the shooting, he had murdered his mother and stabbed his wife to death in her sleep.
It was after much thought that I decided to kill my wife, Kathy, tonight … I love her dearly, and she has been as fine a wife to me as any man could ever hope to have. I cannot rationa[l]ly pinpoint any specific reason for doing this …
Along with the shock of the murders lay another, more hidden, surprise: the juxtaposition of his aberrant actions with his unremarkable personal life. Whitman was an Eagle Scout and a former marine, studied architectural engineering at the University of Texas, and briefly worked as a bank teller and volunteered as a scoutmaster for Austin’s Boy Scout Troop 5. As a child, he’d scored 138 on the Stanford-Binet IQ test, placing in the 99th percentile. So after his shooting spree from the University of Texas Tower, everyone wanted answers.

For that matter, so did Whitman. He requested in his suicide note that an autopsy be performed to determine if something had changed in his brain — because he suspected it had.
I talked with a Doctor once for about two hours and tried to convey to him my fears that I felt [overcome by] overwhelming violent impulses. After one session I never saw the Doctor again, and since then I have been fighting my mental turmoil alone, and seemingly to no avail.
Whitman’s body was taken to the morgue, his skull was put under the bone saw, and the medical examiner lifted the brain from its vault. He discovered that Whitman’s brain harbored a tumor the diameter of a nickel. This tumor, called a glioblastoma, had blossomed from beneath a structure called the thalamus, impinged on the hypothalamus, and compressed a third region called the amygdala.
(Atlantic Monthly, emphasis added). The compression of the physical Amygdala could impair or alter input from the eyes, ears, nose, taste buds, and touch because all those data-flows go directly to the physical Amygdala first (see video below).

In the Whitman case that tumor likely caused the physical Amygdala to malfunction,  override the cultural Amygdala, and thereby impair the self-awareness Whitman had of himself.

Whitman's statement "I don't really understand myself these days" is indicative of his well developed self-awareness, in terms of thinking patterns and emotional composition, and that he was detecting ongoing changes within himself that were not normal to him (which may link the cultural Amygdala to self awareness -- see e.g. Self-Awareness Require Complex Brain?).

Some of the functions of the cultural Amygdala as well as the physical Amygdala could be implicated by those changes.

Whitman perceived a malfunction but was not able to get any useful handle on it, even with the help of mental health professionals.

This post is getting a bit long, so, more to come in future posts of this series (including the relation of the cultural Amygdala to the toxins of power).

The next post in this series is here.

Saturday, August 18, 2012


Behavior modifies genes and microbes
There may be a perceived contradiction among the various hypotheses Toxins of Power Blog talks about concerning the origin of the toxins of power.

So, before proceeding let's clear the air of some of the fog that perception might generate.

First, let's note again for the record that Toxins of Power Blog has posted from the inception of these series the assertion that behavior can lead to conditions for the generation of toxins of power.

However, equally important is the repeated assertion that behavior can also control or neutralize those toxins by generating anti-toxins.

So let's reflect on quotes from earlier posts to firm up that aspect, noting the notion of anti-toxins:
This formula shows that the exercise of any official is to resist corrupting toxins via antitoxins. The goal is to bring "T" and "A" to the same value, so that T - A sums to zero.
Finally, we need to ask what [behaviors], then, are toxins and what are their numeric values, and what [behaviors] are antitoxins and what are their numeric values.
(Tables For The Toxins In Power). Fundamentally the hypothesis provides tables which indicate that some behaviors are toxic so those behaviors are likely to increase the presence of toxins of power, but to the contrary other behaviors are anti-toxic and are therefore likely to decrease the presence of toxins of power.

Moving on to the meme aspect of the hypothesis, this would mean that memetic morph is unlikely to take place if certain anti-toxic behaviors are practiced:
In the first post of this series we talked about memetic morph whereby a meme changes through some corruption of memory.

Some of the morph that takes place in such a case has been described in our series as a partial corruption of the strands of memes within an individual's memory.

One allegorical or symbolic example can be demonstrated by comparing what happens when there is a phenomenon that appears as an "innocent corruption of memory" described by Dr. Roger A. Pielke Sr. engendered by the inaccurate reading of text.

Even this can lead to memetic morphs that generate corrupt memes then their propagation throughout a meme complex, and even beyond that.
(A Structure RE: Corruption of Memes - 2). Moving on to the hypothesis that microbes are the source for the origin of toxins of power, this indicates that certain behaviors increase the likelihood of microbial generation of toxins, but other behaviors decrease that likelihood.

We have support for that, in principle, from another post:
"the genetic argument allows us the luxury of ignoring past and present historical and social factors. In the words of Louis Menand who wrote in the New Yorker very astutely:
“It’s all in the genes”: an explanation for the way things are that does not threaten the way things are. Why should someone feel unhappy or engage in antisocial behavior when that person is living in the freest and most prosperous nation on Earth? It can’t be the system! There must be a flaw in the wiring somewhere.”
... which is a good way to put it. So the genetic argument is simply a cop-out that allows us to ignore the social and economic and political factors that in fact underlie many troublesome behaviors" (Dr. Maté).
(The "It's In Your Genes" Myth). The bottom line of these hypotheses is that behavior is a functional aspect of both toxin increase as well as toxin decrease, depending on the type of behavior.

It is important to note that this is not in conflict with the research, but to the contrary it is supported by the research.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Microbial Hermeneutics - 2

In the first post of this series we learned that microbes signal one another, that is, they communicate with each other.

In that post we also covered the issue of signal interpretation, that is, discerning which signals to listen to and how to interpret them.

In this post we will take that a bit further, and discuss the findings of science teams we have not yet considered, to learn that microbes actually communicate via a language all their own.

Their language is composed of molecules as words, molecules which the microbes construct within themselves, then broadcast for other microbes to receive, then interpret and act upon.

The importance of this reality cannot be underestimated.

I say this because one of the types of activity that microbes perform is to shape humans in various degrees, both in physical shape and size, including our brains, as well as to influence and/or control some of our behavior, including activating the most extreme behaviors (see Hypothesis: Microbes Generate Toxins of Power - 6).

The video at the bottom of the post has all the detail, since it is a microbiology science presentation by Dr. Bonnie Lynn Bassler, an American molecular biologist who has been a professor at Princeton University since 1994.

She and her team have discovered the "Rosetta Stone" of microbial languages, and can disrupt their hermeneutical processes, to essentially use propaganda to control, to some degree, the behavior of microbes.

The next post in this series is here, the previous post in this series is here.

Additionally, a follow-up interview with Dr. Bassler is here.

I am providing an index into the video which readers can use to focus on any subject more quickly by moving the guide with your mouse to any desired location for quicker review of particular subjects.
Index (time, subject)

00:21 - microbes are oldest life forms on Earth
01:03 - 10 times more microbes than human cells in us
01:31 - 100 times more microbial genes than human genes in us
02:00 - microbes are 99% of our make-up; they keep us alive
02:20 - microbes are vital for keeping us alive and healthy
04:20 - microbes talk with a molecular language
07:50 - quorum sensing (like a census) to know population count
08:20 - Intra species communication (shape of words) dialects
10:50 - microbes communicate with other microbes (multi-lingual)
11:20 - they take a census of all other microbes around them
12:30 - synthetic molecules-words interrupt communication
13:50 - synthetic molecules-words confuse the microbes
15:00 - they have collective, community behaviors
15:20 - microbes made the rules for multi-cellular development
16:00 - microbes invented multi-cellular behavior inside us
17:15 - the team

Friday, July 6, 2012

Hypothesis: Microbes Generate Toxins of Power - 6

Ancient Microbial Neurosurgeons
I am interrupting the flow of this series to change the expected topic, from a look at stem cells as was intended, to a look at microbial influence on the functioning of the human brain (see The Human Microbiome Congress).

Instead, this post will focus on some experimental and observational data that will bring more focus to this series.

We pause for more focus on the effects and affects that microbes have on human behavior.

Before going on into stem cell dynamics, which will still be discussed in a future post, I want to double down on the known science available which strongly supports the general premise involved in the notion that microbes can and do affect our thinking and/or our behavior.

This post will startle you, if previous ones haven't yet.

The bulk of scientific research that has been used in this series, so far, has been from microbiologists who were taking a look at primarily symbiotic relationships human cells have with microbial cells (see On The New Meaning of Being Human).

That involves microbes taking part in the development of our brains in ways that end up helping us as we help them (see Hypothesis: Microbes Generate Toxins of Power - 5).

That cooperation and peace can seem bland in some ways, possibly because of movies, television, and the like, where shoot-em-up bang-bang is the norm.

So, to grab your attention and focus on the earth-shaking reality we are talking about in this series, we will hold off on the discussion of stem cells to instead take a quick look at a parasitic microbe, one that does not have the good manners that symbiont microbes have.

That parasitic microbe is the protozoa Toxoplasma gondii ("Toxo") which, as a world renowned scientist explains, has incredible abilities:
The parasite my lab is beginning to focus on is one in the world of mammals, where parasites are changing mammalian behavior... Toxo instead has developed this amazing capacity to alter innate behavior in rodents... If you take a lab rat who is 5,000 generations into being a lab rat, since the ancestor actually ran around in the real world, and you put some cat urine in one corner of their cage, they're going to move to the other side. Completely innate, hard-wired reaction to the smell of cats, the cat pheromones. But take a Toxo-
"Complex" Is An Understatement
infected rodent, and they're no longer afraid of the smell of cats. In fact they become attracted to it. The most damn amazing thing you can ever see, Toxo knows how to make cat urine smell attractive to rats. And rats go and check it out and that rat is now much more likely to wind up in the cat's stomach. Toxo's circle of life completed.

... part of my lab has been trying to figure out the neurobiological aspects. The first thing is that it's for real. The rodents, rats, mice, really do become attracted to cat urine when they've been infected with Toxo. And you might say, okay, well, this is a rodent doing just all sorts of screwy stuff because it's got this parasite turning its brain into Swiss cheese or something. It's just non-specific behavioral chaos. But no, these are incredibly normal animals. Their olfaction is normal, their social behavior is normal, their learning and memory is normal. All of that. It's not just a generically screwy animal.

You say, okay well, it's not that, but Toxo seems to know how to destroy fear and anxiety circuits. But it's not that, either. Because these are rats who are still innately afraid of bright lights. They're nocturnal animals. They're afraid of big, open spaces. You can condition them to be afraid of novel things. The system works perfectly well there. Somehow Toxo can laser out this one fear pathway, this aversion to predator odors... Toxo preferentially knows how to home in on the part of the brain that is all about fear and anxiety, a brain region called the amygdala... Toxo knows how to get in there.

Next, we then saw that Toxo would take the dendrites, the branch and cables that neurons have to connect to each other, and shriveled them up in the amygdala. It was disconnecting circuits. You wind up with fewer cells there. This is a parasite that is unwiring this stuff in the critical part of the brain for fear and anxiety... It knows how to find that particular circuitry... Meanwhile, there is a well-characterized circuit that has to do with sexual attraction. And as it happens, part of this circuit courses through the amygdala, which is pretty interesting in and of itself, and then goes to different areas of the brain than the fear pathways... Toxo knows how to hijack the sexual reward pathway. And you get males infected with Toxo and expose them to a lot of the cat pheromones, and their testes get bigger. Somehow, this damn parasite knows how to make cat urine smell sexually arousing to rodents, and they go and check it out. Totally amazing... So what about humans? A small literature is coming out now reporting neuropsychological testing on men who are Toxo-infected, showing that they get a little bit impulsive... And then the truly astonishing thing: two different groups independently have reported that people who are Toxo-infected have three to four times the likelihood of being killed in car accidents involving reckless speeding... Maybe you take a Toxo-infected human and they start having a proclivity towards doing dumb-ass things that we should be innately averse to, like having your body hurdle through space at high G-forces. Maybe this is the same neurobiology... On a certain level, this is a protozoan parasite that knows more about the neurobiology of anxiety and fear than 25,000 neuroscientists standing on each other's shoulders... But no doubt it's also a tip of the iceberg of God knows what other parasitic stuff is going on out there. Even in the larger sense, God knows what other unseen realms of biology make our behavior far less autonomous than lots of folks would like to think.
(A Talk With Dr. Sapolsky). Bingo, remember that this series is about a hypothesis that microbes may be the source of the toxins of power that corrupt the minds of officials who inhabit offices of power.

Part of this working hypothesis has been that the work the toxins do is focused on the human amygdala (see The Toxic Bridge To Everywhere).

We now know that there are symbiont microbes who help us in countless ways, and now we also know that there are microbes that are parasites, that is, they are not concerned with our best interests.

The previous post in this series is here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Do Molecular Machines Deliver Toxins of Power?

Machines Had To Evolve First
In the search for the origin of the toxins of power, the Toxins of Power Blog has an attitude of "leave no meme unturned", "leave no molecule unturned", "leave no microbe unturned", and of course "leave no stone unturned."

In that regard, we looked at posts that deal with the study of memetics.

That inquiry included a look at historical attempts to establish the discipline of memetics, as well as some suggestions for the future of that discipline, in the context of using those theories in some manner that would aid us in our search for the origins of toxins of power.

After some theoretical fun with memetics, we picked up the microscope and took a look at the utterly astounding world of microbes.

But we had to move along, taking the search deeper, and while searching deeper we ran across a statement by a scientist whose paper flatly said that any complete inquiry into evolution would necessarily include chemistry:
Dr Clarke said: “There are a lot of fundamental questions about the origins of life and many people think they are questions about biology. But for life to have evolved, you have to have a moment when non-living things become livingeverything up to that point is chemistry.”
(Putting A Face On Machine Mutation - 2, emphasis added). The word "chemistry" conjures up beakers, flasks, and people moving around a laboratory in white coats, but it is also, in large part, the study of molecules and atoms (see chemical elements).

A statement by a scientist concerning that episode of our inquiry caught our attention and set another course for us:
“Our cells, and the cells of all organisms, are composed of molecular machines. These machines are built of component parts, each of which contributes a partial function or structural element to the machine. How such sophisticated, multi-component machines could evolve has been somewhat mysterious, and highly controversial.” Professor Lithgow said.
(Are Toxins of Power Machines or Organisms?, emphasis added). Another paper indicated that a closer look, in that direction, was needed:
Many cellular processes are carried out by molecular ‘machines’ — assemblies of multiple differentiated proteins that physically interact to execute biological functions ... Our experiments show that increased complexity in an essential molecular machine evolved because of simple, high-probability evolutionary processes, without the apparent evolution of novel functions. They point to a plausible mechanism for the evolution of complexity in other multi-paralogue protein complexes.
(Evolution ... a molecular machine, Nature, emphasis added). An interesting article in Wikipedia made a simple statement that helped:
The most complex molecular machines are found within cells.
(Molecular Machine). We then had a very distinct place to focus the search toward a distinct mechanism that generated toxins, and we found one:
Writing in the journal PLoS Pathogens, the team from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences show how they studied the molecular machine known as the 'type II bacterial secretion system', which is responsible for delivering potent toxins from bacteria such as enterotoxigenic E. coli and Vibrio cholerae into an infected individual.

Professor Richard Pickersgill, who led the research, said: "Bacterial secretion systems deliver disease causing toxins into host tissue. If we can understand how these machines work, then we can work out how it they might be stopped."
(Decoding the Molecular Machine, emphasis added). Bingo, that is a perfect fit for a place to stay and study a while (see also Structure and function of mammalian cilia, where the term "molecular motor" is used).

Future posts will fuse the Microbial Hermeneutics series with the Hypothesis: Microbes Generate Toxins of Power series, so as to fine tune the concept of a molecular machine with a toxin of power generating mechanism.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Microbial Hermeneutics

"What we have here is a failure to communicate" was a famous line uttered in the movie Cool Hand Luke, starring Paul Newman.

In the search for the origin of the toxins of power, we have considered how ideas and memes are communicated, then stored in memory.

We have also considered, at the higher levels of memory, how those memes and ideas can morph in various ways while still there in memory.

Lately, we have been considering some lower levels of brain activity where tiny, unseen components of memes and ideas in memory involve or require microbial signaling and messaging, as well as the proper handling of that microbial communication.

The understanding of thought generation and processing within the brain involves and requires a serious consideration of these most abundant, these tiny, and these unseen components, which microbiologists call either symbiont, or non-symbiont, microbes.

The Toxins of Power Blog's search for the origin of the toxins of power has led to a hypothesis ("The Hypothesis"), after considering just how important those microbes working within us are, especially in terms of their communication with our other cells.

In an ongoing series here on this blog we have hypothesized that one source of toxins of power is microbial signal or message malfunction:
Not only that, The Hypothesis is further condensed to state that a toxin of power is generated in one or both of these processes, within either symbiont or non-symbiont microbes, by way of "bad messaging" during common, constantly ongoing, human - microbe communications.
(Hypothesis: Microbes Generate Toxins of Power). "What?", the most abundant life form which is also the oldest life form, microbes, still experience the phenomenon of a failure to communicate like Cool Hand Luke did?

Concerning this aspect of the subject matter of communication, which we could call the struggle for clear communication, Dredd Blog has discussed human, language-based hermeneutics in the post "Hermeneutics For The Blogosphere" (cf. Modern Hermeneutics).

So in this post, here on Toxins of Power Blog, we will consider the notion of microbial hermeneutics as an aid to improving The Hypothesis.

Upon further research, I actually found an interesting paper, "Mixed Messages: How Bacteria Resolve Conflicting Signals", concerning microbial communication:
Imagine a graduate student with two thesis advisors. One suggests focusing on the experiments. The other suggests some mathematical modeling. What should the student do? The first strategy might involve doing a little of each, effectively ‘‘averaging’’ their advice. Prioritizing one mentor over the other could be a second option. Finally, when the best choice is unclear, it may be best to flip a coin. Bacteria, which live in complex environments, face similar problems and must respond optimally to multiple conflicting signals.
(Molecular Cell, Volume 42, Issue 4, p. 405, PDF, HTML). The Earth is rife with signals and communication, for example, a while back the cherry blossoms in Washington D.C. were blooming at the beginning of February 2012, a month or so earlier than the climate there calls for.

At that same time, around the nation, the ongoing "snow drought" and warm temperatures were sending signals to the flora and fauna which, as it turns out, were confusing communications that affected a proper understanding of what should be done (blossom, sprout, or stay dormant a while longer?).

That is because it can be dangerous when flora and/or fauna receive signals which normally indicate that spring is here, then as a result errantly go into "spring mode", to be later damaged by what is then a surprising, and seemingly untimely cold snap.

Likewise, the most abundant kind of cell in us, microbes, can also receive ambiguous messages, as shown in the paper "Resolution of Gene Regulatory Conflicts Caused by Combinations of Antibiotics", for example when we improperly use antibiotics:
Regulatory conflicts occur when two signals that individually trigger opposite cellular responses are present simultaneously. Here, we investigate regulatory conflicts in the bacterial response to antibiotic combinations.
(Molecular Cell, Volume 42, Issue 4, p. 413, PDF, HTML). The communication is quite complex:
Quorum sensing is the regulation of gene expression in response to fluctuations in cell-population density. Quorum sensing bacteria produce and release chemical signal molecules called autoinducers that increase in concentration as a function of cell density. The detection of a minimal threshold stimulatory concentration of an autoinducer leads to an alteration in gene expression. Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria use quorum sensing communication circuits to regulate a diverse array of physiological activities. These processes include symbiosis, virulence, competence, conjugation, antibiotic production, motility, sporulation, and biofilm formation. In general, Gram-negative bacteria use acylated homoserine lactones as autoinducers, and Gram-positive bacteria use processed oligo-peptides to communicate. Recent advances in the field indicate that cell-cell communication via autoinducers occurs both within and between bacterial species. Furthermore, there is mounting data suggesting that bacterial autoinducers elicit specific responses from host organisms. Although the nature of the chemical signals, the signal relay mechanisms, and the target genes controlled by bacterial quorum sensing systems differ, in every case the ability to communicate with one another allows bacteria to coordinate the gene expression, and therefore the behavior, of the entire community. Presumably, this process bestows upon bacteria some of the qualities of higher organisms. The evolution of quorum sensing systems in bacteria could, therefore, have been one of the early steps in the development of multicellularity.
(Quorum Sensing In Bacteria, emphasis added). It would seem, then, that microbial hermeneutics is not only the oldest form of hermeneutics, but is also a very critical and basic form of hermeneutics:
An alternative view is that cells use simpler ‘‘rules’’ to determine
appropriate gene expression levels in response to conflicting signals. But what do these ‘‘rules’’ look like, how complex are they, and to what extent can they be used to predict the response of cells to novel signal combinations?
These issues are increasingly critical throughout biomedical science. Single-cell organisms such as bacteria can live in extraordinarily diverse environments, in and out of hosts, and surrounded by other microbial species and the antibiotics that many of them produce. In this milieu, signal integration abilities are critical to survival. Similarly, in metazoan development, individual signaling pathways rarely work in isolation; rather, cellular responses depend on combinations of inputs from multiple pathways ...
(Molecular Cell, Volume 42, Issue 4, p. 405, emphasis added). Reiterating The Hypothesis, it does not seem to be too much of a stretch to say that toxins of power are possibly a result of message malfunction at this deep level of communication within us, since it is clear that "bad messaging" can and does happen there.

Furthermore, even the misinterpretation of a valid signal, because of inadequate microbial hermeneutic techniques, could have as much of an adverse impact as an improper signal in the first place could have.

Therefore, I also consider the realm of microbial hermeneutics to be a valid suspect as a source for toxins of power.

Before continuing, notice how similar this concept of microbial hermeneutics is to the scenario of a jury receiving mixed, conflicting messages from expert testimony in a courtroom trial.

Like microbes trying to resolve conflicting signals, the jury must use legal, and other, hermeneutics to resolve the conflict between or among experts, even though the jury is not composed of experts (The Pillars of Knowledge: Faith and Trust?).

Since this post is getting to be a bit long, I will close for now.

In the next post of this series we will consider a more complex area of microbial signaling and communication, which is the incredible "cell factories" that are better known as "stem cells."

They certainly seem to be another possible area where toxins of power could be generated, and therefore, should also be considered.

The next post in this series is here.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Hypothesis: Microbes Generate Toxins of Power - 5

For a hypothesis to be valid it must be falsifiable, and it must make predictions or explanations which match experimental or other data.

So, near the end of this post, I will propose some follow up research and/or experiments to do just that.

I will also suggest what those experiments and/or research efforts should show, so as to make it easier to test whether or not The Hypothesis is viable enough to pursue further.

But first, let's bring the history of The Hypothesis up to date.

Prions have been eliminated from The Hypothesis as a source for the toxins of power, thus we are left with either microbes or phages as originators of a toxin of power.

We have data that indicate a likely locus or focus point for this origin, which is the brain:
Microbial colonization of mammals is an evolution-driven process that modulate host physiology, many of which are associated with immunity and nutrient intake. Here, we report that colonization by gut microbiota impacts mammalian brain development and subsequent adult behavior ... our results suggest that the microbial colonization process initiates signaling mechanisms that affect neuronal circuits involved in motor control and anxiety behavior.
(Hypothesis: Microbes Generate Toxins of Power, emphasis added). The full import of that research is that, following colonization, communication of various sorts takes place between and/or among human cells and microbes, which impacts the amygdala, and other limbic system areas:
We therefore studied the expression of these genes in the frontal cortex, striatum, amygdala, and hippocampus of GF and SPF mice, by means of in situ hybridization technique. In GF mice, NGFI-A mRNA expression was significantly lower in various subregions of the prefrontal cortex, including the orbital frontal cortex (Fig. 4 A and A′); as well as in the striatum (GF vs. SPF: 329 ± 33 vs. 586 ± 18, P < 0.0001), hippocampus (CA1 region, GF vs. SPF: 258 ± 15 vs. 499 ± 22, P < 0.0001; CA3 region, GF vs. SPF: 166 ± 13 vs. 236 ± 6, P < 0.001; dentate gyrus, GF vs. SPF: 76 ± 4 vs. 113 ± 5, P < 0.0001) and amygdala (GF vs. SPF: 126 ± 17 vs. 212 ± 19, P < 0.01) compared with SPF mice. Similarly, GF mice had significantly lower BDNF mRNA expression in the hippocampus, amygdala (Fig. 4 B and B′), and cingulate cortex (GF vs. SPF: 162 ± 6 vs. 193 ± 10, P < 0.05), which are key components of the neural circuitry underlying anxiety and fear ... Our results suggest that during evolution, the colonization of gut microbiota has become integrated into the programming of brain development, affecting motor control and anxiety-like behavior.
(Hypothesis: Microbes Generate Toxins of Power - 2). The same method that was used to strengthen the appendix - microbe relationship hypothesis of Dr. Parker will work for testing The Hypothesis as well.

The team testing Dr. Parker's hypothesis used existing medical records, so I propose using that same method to test The Hypothesis, as follows:
1 - examine medical records of people who have been exposed to power (presidents, congress members, judges) covering a time when they behaved improperly in their official capacity;

2 - compare those to medical records of people who have not been exposed to power, at a time when those people were behaving properly;

3 - generate data about the differences in brain chemistry, structure, and brain function between the two groups, focusing on the limbic system, especially the amygdala.
NOTE: the reason for analysis of medical records of those exposed to power, during times of improper official behavior, is because The Hypothesis contains a premise that certain good behaviors are anti-toxins to the toxins of power (See: Tables For The Toxins In Power).

If The Hypothesis is correct the NGFI-A mRNA, BDNF mRNA, chemicals, and other factors mentioned above (Hypothesis: Microbes Generate Toxins of Power - 2) should reveal data supportive of The Hypothesis.

The next post in this series is here, the previous post in this series is here.