Saturday, January 17, 2015

Abiotic Evolution: Can It Explain An Origin For The Toxins of Power? - 3

First, since this series has focused to some degree on stem cells (1st post, 2nd post), and since there was a big row/scrap about some scientific papers concerning stem cells (papers that were said to be flawed); today, I will update/narrow the line of reasoning in this series to the degree that these events might apply.

Note that this blog never agreed nor disagreed with the papers which indicated that stress could generate stem cells ("embryonic-like stem cells could be created by exposing bodily cells to stress" - Nature Retraction Notice).

That dust-up, in the journal Nature, is still ongoing to some degree, because there were some mysteries then which still remain in that ongoing scientific drama:
The investigation also has not explained one of the most notable features of the cells — their ability to form a placenta — something that embryonic stem cells do not generally do. “That is still one question that to me is still a mystery,” says Manuel Serrano, a cancer biologist who has worked with stem cells at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre in Madrid.

Serrano, like many of his colleagues, was intrigued by the papers, published in Nature in January 2014, reporting that adult cells could behave like stem cells after experiencing severe stress1, 2. To him, the premise made sense — there was ample evidence in the literature that stressed cells were prone to taking on new identities.
(Nature, "Questions Linger Over Stress-induced Stem Cells", emphasis added). There is little to no dispute that stress has an impact on organisms.

In fact, the stress involved in this drama being played out led to the suicide of one of the scientists involved (STAP Paper Co-author Sasai Commits Suicide).

Second, since we apply the toxins of power hypotheses to adults, we can ignore embryonic and other stem cells, to focus directly on adult stem cells:
Adult stem cells. These stem cells are found in small numbers in most adult tissues, such as bone marrow or fat. Compared with embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells have a more limited ability to give rise to various cells of the body.

Until recently, researchers thought adult stem cells could create only similar types of cells. For instance, researchers thought that stem cells residing in the bone marrow could give rise only to blood cells.

However, emerging evidence suggests that adult stem cells may be able to create unrelated types of cells. For instance, bone marrow stem cells may be able to create bone or heart muscle cells.
(Mayo Clinic, emphasis added). So, as these cells are going through the process of "shape shifting", what could cause that morphing process to be initiated, and what toxins could impact upon those cells, and the ones they were morphing into or creating, during and/or after the metamorphic process?

One of the country's top experts on stress (quoted often on this blog) has given stress a substantial amount of thought:
In 1900, what do you think were the leading causes of death in this country?

If you were 20 to 40 years old and a woman, the single riskiest thing you could do was try to give birth. TB, Pneumonia, influenza killed a lot of other people. But few people under the age of 100 die of the flu anymore. Relatively few women die in childbirth. Instead, we die of these utterly bizarre diseases that have never existed before on the planet in any sort of numbers—diseases like heart disease, cancer, adult-onset diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.

Now, some of this has to do with nuts and bolts biology. But some of it has to do with issues that nobody ever had to think about before in medicine—totally bizarre questions like, “What’s your psychological makeup?” or “What’s your social status?” or “How do people with your social status get treated in your society?

And this one: “Why is it that when we’re feeling unloved, we eat more starch?” Figure that out, and you’ve cured half the cases of diabetes in this country.

Indeed, when you look at the diseases that do us in, they are predominantly diseases that can be caused, or made worse, by stress. As a result, most of us in this room will have the profound Westernized luxury of dropping dead someday of a stress-related disease. That’s why it’s so urgent that we understand stress—and how to better manage it.
(How to Relieve Stress, by Dr. Sapolsky; emphasis added). So, the stress addressed in the valid parts of the scientific papers that were recalled by the journal Nature for other reasons, and the subsequent testing (i.e. "embryonic-like stem cells could be created by exposing bodily cells to stress") are still worthy of further consideration.

A substantial number of related events that are causes of, or contributors to, our demise or death are also worthy of further consideration.

Why, then, would anyone question the potential impact of the constant exposure to stress on people who are sitting in seats of power?

Especially since astronomically smaller amounts of exposure to stress in "minor" events, such as traffic jams, can even have an impact:
For 99 percent of the species on this planet, stress is three minutes of screaming terror in the savannah, after which either it’s over with or you’re over with. That’s all you need to know about the subject if you’re a zebra or a lion.

If you’re a human, though, you’ve got to expand the definition of a stressor in a very critical way. If you’re running from a lion, your blood pressure is 180 over 120. But you’re not suffering from high blood pressure—you’re saving your life. Have this same thing happen when you’re stuck in traffic, and you’re not saving your life. Instead you are suffering from stress-induced hypertension.

We humans turn on the stress response with memories, with emotions, with thoughts, and the whole punch line is: That’s not what it evolved for. Do it regularly enough, and you’re going to damage your cardiovascular system. Increased blood flow hammers on the walls of your blood vessels, causing inflammation. Fat and glucose and cholesterol glom on and begin to clog your arteries. That’s bad news. You are more at risk for chronic fatigue, sleep disruption, muscle atrophy, and probably most importantly, adult-onset diabetes, this once obscure disease that’s just on the edge of being the number one killer in this country.

Chronic stress also does bad things to the nervous system. Stress kills neurons in the part of the brain called the hippocampus and weakens the cables between neurons, so they can’t talk to each other. This impairs the formation and retrieval of long-term memory. The opposite thing happens in the amygdala, which is where we see fear in a brain scanner. In the hippocampus, stress causes stuff to shrivel up. But stress feeds the amygdala. It actually gets bigger. Chronic stress creates a hyper-reactive, hysterical amygdala, and this tells us tons about what stress has to do with anxiety disorders.
(ibid, "How to Relieve Stress", emphasis added). Regular readers know that this blog has many posts concerning the impact which the amygdala has on behavior (e.g. The Toxic Bridge To Everywhere, Hypothesis: The Cultural Amygdala).

But, perhaps equally central to the analysis of what impact it has on those in seats of power, the frontal cortex is implicated too:
What about the frontal cortex? It’s the most human part of the brain; we’ve proportionally got more of it than any other species does. And what does the frontal cortex do? It does gratification postponement, self-discipline, long-term planning, emotional regulation. It’s the last part of the brain to fully mature—that doesn’t happen until you’re 25 years old, which explains a lot about the freshmen year of college.

This has a very interesting implication. If this is the last part of the brain to fully develop, by definition, then, it is the part of the brain least constrained by genes and most sculpted by experience. What does chronic stress do to the frontal cortex? Atrophy of neurons, disconnecting circuits. As a result, you make the most idiotic decisions, which are going to haunt you for the rest of your life, and yet you think they’re brilliant at the time. That’s another effect of chronic stress: Your judgment goes down the tubes.
(ibid, "How to Relieve Stress", emphasis added). That fits well with what we see happening in seats of power (e.g. The Peak Of The Oil Wars - 12, New Climate Catastrophe Policy: Triage - 11, The Ignoratti Preacher Says: "The Ice Age Cometh").

And since Dr. Sapolsky said "it [frontal cortex] is the part of the brain least constrained by genes and most sculpted by experience", it might help to review posts related to the impact that experience has on those in seats of power (epigenetic and cultural: One Man's Junk Gene Is Another Man's Treasure Gene?, Choose Your Trances Carefully).

Some of the observations the world makes based on Americans in power, when "judgment goes down the tubes", is to change their perspective on America:
In the early fall of 2014, I traveled from my home in Oslo, Norway, through much of Eastern and Central Europe. Everywhere I went in those two months, moments after locals realized I was an American the questions started and, polite as they usually were, most of them had a single underlying theme: Have Americans gone over the edge? Are you crazy? Please explain.
(The Life and Death of Bright Things - 2, emphasis in original). Stress causes death and lack of judgment, nevertheless its impact on those in power, in some ways, is said to still be a mystery:
The profound evolution of primate neocortex was influenced by the computational demands of living in a complex social environment (Dunbar & Shultz, 2007). For primates, a key factor creating structure within the social environment is power. In nonhuman primates, an animal’s power is partly determined by the degree to which they dominate conspecifics. Those that are able to exert dominance over others gain greater access to valuable resources like food and potential mates (Dunbar, 1980; Lewis, 2002; Watts, 2010). In human societies, power similarly creates “dependence asymmetries,” wherein the powerless depend heavily on the powerful for resources, whereas the powerful enjoy relatively unabated access to resources (Russell & Fiske, 2010). This asymmetry results in differences in how the powerful and the powerless process other individuals. Despite what we know about the effects of power on social information processing, the majority of the evidence is indirect, and the mechanisms underlying power’s influence remain a mystery.
Future research will be needed to determine the mechanisms through which power impacts motor resonance. Though it is dangerous to rely solely on brain imaging to infer mental activity (cf. Poldrack, 2006), extant neuroimaging data are crucial for generating testable predictions for this work. In this vein, one possibility is that the posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS), a brain region that sends visual input to resonant brain areas, is inhibited or somehow deactivated by high power.
(Power Changes How The Brain Responds To Others, PDF; emphasis added). Clearly, there is mystery still out there to be considered by those laboring in the realm of serious research.

That reality lends some credence to this blogs focus on a broad area of potential sources for the origin toxins of power, from memes all the way to microbes, viruses, and molecules.

Since abiotic evolution still takes place in an area which impacts the relevant areas higher up in the hierarchy of physics, genetics, and biology, in closing today's post, let's take a look at that abiotic source once again:
"The analysis of the original proton wave packet involves an interesting phase problem, and, since the energy distribution is temperature dependent, the whole phenomenon is also temperature dependent."
"The tunneling times will depend essentially on the height and the form of the barrier. In DNA, the form of the double-well potentials regulating the hydrogen bonds depend not only on the base pair involved but also on neighboring pairs, their net charges, and the entire electric environment. The tunneling time is hence not only characteristic for a certain biological specimen but is also a function of the position in the DNA molecule involved. The tunneling time is very likely also temperature dependent, even if the protons are well shielded in the double helix. The main problem is whether the tunneling time is very short in comparison to the replication time, or whether there exist organisms where the penetration of the barrier is slow in comparison to the replication." 
"It should always be remembered that, in Born's interpretation of quantum mechanics, the quantity |¥|² represents the probability density for finding the proton in a specific position. The tunneling of the wave packet is hence a time-dependent process which is going to influence the properties of the genetic code.
"In this connection, it should be observed that the tunneling probabilities depend not only on the base pair involved but also on the electrostatic environment, the neighboring base pairs, etc., which may explain the occurrence of "hot spots."
At a DNA replication, the protons have to "choose sides," and the proton code immediately after a DNA replication represents actually a nonstationary state from the quantum-mechanical point of view. The time evolution of the system and particularly the penetration of the potential barrier in the double-well potential represents a loss of the genetic code which should perhaps be considered as the primary cause of aging. The aging is thus a process which goes on continuously in the DNA molecule but gets "manifested" at the replications.
Proton tunneling may finally be of importance in connection with the occurrence of spontaneous tumors. The growth of an individual is a highly refined balance between factors which enhance the cell duplication and other factors which limit this duplication so that the organism takes a specific shape. The entire process is stimulated and controlled by various enzymes, and there is a feedback from the environment about which we know, at present, very little. If there is a somatic mutation, i.e., a change of the genetic code in a DNA molecule in the body of an organism, the change may influence the protein synthesis and the balance between the enhancing and controlling enzyme actions in the growth cycle. Actually, the new genetic code may lead to the development of a "new individual" within the individual, i.e., a tumor."
"In this paper we have pointed out that, since the protons are not classical particles but "wave packets" obeying the laws of modern quantum theory, the genetic code cannot --in spite of all precautions-- be 100% stable. Due to the quantum-mechanical "tunnel effect," there is always a small but finite probability that the protons will change place, alter the genetic code, and give rise to mutations. This implies also that this transfer of protons over a distance of about 10-8 cm may be one of the driving forces in the evolution of living organisms on the earth."
(Stem Cell Malfunction A Quantum Toxin Source?, @ Review of Modern Physics). While we digest all this we need to remember that we are considering the impact of the type of stress which is induced or enhanced by exposure to power.

Today, I am saying that such impacts may reach all the way down to the abiotic dynamics that can cause mutations at the atomic level.

I am also saying that those impacts may reach up to higher level genetic dynamics, as well as upon even higher level adult stem cells as they function to repair the damage stress has caused to cells around them.

The previous post in this series is here.