You’ve probably heard that gut bacteria may be responsible for everything from emotional behaviors to disorders of the central nervous system by way of “bidirectional signaling between the brain and the gut microbiome.” Did you catch that? Maybe your gut microbes aren’t exactly Skyping with your brain, it’s more like they are…Snapchatting. Not gonna lie – we find that a little creepy.
And the parasitic fungi that turns ants into zombies is totally old news. Comfortingly, the government grown-ups keep telling us that a zombie apocalypse is totally not possible apparently being prepped for by the Pentagon. Ok whatever, at least the scientist grown-ups keep telling us that a zombie apocalypse is totally unpossible perhaps not that big of a stretch after all when one considers the symptoms and transmissibility of neurological disorders like the spongiform encephalopathies (Mad Cow and Creutzfeldt-Jakob) and toxoplasmosis.
So let’s look on the bright side: if you’re slated to join the rank and file of a coming zombie apocalypse, consider that signs point to you being 100% alive while doing so versus a reanimated corpse. Winning! But for now, set aside the planning for your 28 Days Later future and your attempts to decipher whether it’s you or the microbes in your gut calling for take-out. Let’s have some real talk about something that won’t seem nearly so terrifying by comparison. By comparison, we say.
A new study from some fine upstanding folks from the University of Cambridge asserts that the human genome is most definitely riddled with genes originating from bacteria, protists, viruses and fungi: “[m]any animals, including humans, acquired essential ‘foreign’ genes from microorganisms.” That’s right, according to this first of its kind study, the DNA passed down to you from your bio-parents, from their bio-parents, and so on back to the days of evolutionary yore – appears to include DNA from microbes. It’s like Alien, but where the alien is a microbe instead of an actual alien. And instead of the alien bursting out of your chest and murdering you the alien just quietly inserts its DNA into your genome. And in lieu of death you get a payoff of some microscopic super power like the ability to break down fats, send signals between immune cells, modify proteins, or possess some variant of an ABO blood type.
And you might think *yawn* no bigs ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, so we have microbe DNA in our DNA – at least it’s not THE RAGE VIRUS TURNING US ALL INTO RAGE ZOMBIES.
But it IS actually pretty awesome if you think about it. It makes evolution even more evolution-y than we have already observed it to be. Not only are we subject to rando mutations within species, leading to the rise of new traits and new species, but the prospect of entirely OTHER SPECIES just Kanye-ing onto on our genetic stage and mic-dropping some non-species DNA? As the study’s lead author (and possibly one of the most British-ly-named individuals ever) Alastair Crisp states “we may need to re-evaluate how we think about evolution.” Mind blown.
So there you have it – in addition to gazing into the souls of your microbe overlords present and future, you may now pay homage to your microbial forebears.