Please enjoy this guest post by
William B. Miller, Jr, M. D.
Almost anyone reading this has been on social media sites, like YouTube or Facebook, that encourage active commentary on posts. How many of you have watched a video seen by millions, liked by thousands and disliked by a few hundred? Lets consider Taylor Swift and her ‘Wildest Dreams’ video on YouTube based on metrics as of 11/21/15: 227,427,424 views, 1,790,763 likes and 84,748 dislikes.
So, who are these people that dislike it? They are basically 1 out of every 3,000 viewers. What drives them to click dislike? Do they feel things that we don’t? Or perhaps, even more disconcertingly, maybe you are one of that small minority. How is it possible that so many enjoy something that you don’t? The answer lies deep within you.
This disparity of viewpoint has been the subject hundreds of years of speculation. Typically it has been framed as nature versus nurture. Bolstered by genetic discoveries, one school of thought has centered on the general belief that the answer must be hidden variables within our own human genome. Others believe that it has more to do with upbringing and the cultural influences or environmental circumstances that all experience in our own unique manner.
However, new findings are raising the possibility that the truth is even more complicated. It seems that our personalities are a complex amalgam of three intersecting factors. Two of those are nature versus nurture. However, we now understand that there is a previously concealed but consequential additional variable. It has to do with the precise composition of microbial life that is in you and on you. Surprisingly, these companion germs help to determine many aspects of our tastes, moods, personality, and stress reactions. These astonishing associations are entirely changing the manner in which we have assessed ourselves and what we have deemed our ‘human nature’, ie. what makes us choose to click like or dislike.
Up until only a very few years ago, we believed that we were singular organisms with a smattering of attached germs that play only a minor supportive role. However, now it is clear that this is not how nature perceives us. Instead of a ‘one’ we are an integrated ‘many’. Our bodies are actually vast cellular collaboratives that combine those cells that we think of as our own and also an immense amount of microbial life. We cannot survive without some of those microbes and they cannot be what they want to be without us. Furthermore, it is now understood that the exact composition of this enormous microbial constituency has a crucial impact on every aspect of our life.
It is now understood that we are dependent upon a vast array of microbial genes for our metabolism, growth and development, and immune systems. Some of these outside genes critically influence us so it can be contended that they are as much a part of us as our own central genome. Research is showing that varying proportion of microbial life can have a critical impact on our reactions to stress, and even more surprisingly, our moods and attitudes. So the vital aspect of nurture, such as our upbringing, can have sources of influence that has previously been hidden from view and have not been traditionally considered.
Certainly, we are guided by many sources as we grow and mature. Some experience abuse and bullying and others mentorship and abundant encouragement. This is part of our human condition. However, we now realize that there is another highly substantial narrative: the microbes we acquire or miss. In evolutionary development, this set of outside acquired influences is called ‘epigentics.’ What we are learning is that the repercussions of epigentic factors can be powerful and can be heritable. They affect even something as complex as our personality. They contribute mightily to making us just who we are, yet remain obscured from our own senses only operating in the background.
Emerging research into this microbial component, now termed the microbiome, is informing us that we are critically dependent upon our own particular set of microbial partners in their exact proportions. And further, those proportions and how they vary over time are exclusive to each of us as they participate in and help shape the decisions we make – why we like what we like and how we decide we dislike something.
So what might this have to do with You Tube and thumbs up or thumbs down or Facebook ‘likes’? As you offer your candid comment, perhaps you might pause to reflect that just in part, your microbial partners are silently urging that next click.
Dr. Bill Miller has been a physician in academic and private practice for over 30 years. He is the author of The Microcosm Within: Evolution and Extinction in the Hologenome. He currently serves as a scientific advisor to OmniBiome Therapeutics, a pioneering company in discovering and developing solutions to problems in human fertility and health through management of the human microbiome. For more information, www.themicrocosmwithin.com.