Do you ever have one of those months where ideas from disparate sources converge? For me it was all about symbiosis though maybe coevolution would be a better term. It really started a while ago. My dad sent me a book, An Epidemic of Absence. I had it on my desk for ages. It is all about the hygiene hypothesis. Our modern diseases are very distinct from the ones we used to have trouble with. We used to have infectious diseases that killed us. Now we have immune dysfunction diseases that weren't prevalent before. Like allergies, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, obesity, auto immune disorders, and possibly even autism. The hygiene hypothesis states that we have these trouble because our immune system needs the microbes/parasites/viruses that we coevolved with. Without them we attack ourselves or things we don't need to like allergens.
The book takes it even farther than I had heard before. It says that we have given up some of our regulatory control of our body especially our immune system to our flora and fauna. We no longer have the capacity to control it ourselves. People living on farms are healthier especially if they have more contact with animals. Our immune system is trained even in utero. Our mother's contact with a diverse micro biota controls our chances of getting such diseases. It was a really fascinating book to read. Some of it was a slog and slow, but most flowed pretty well. A bit too much of it was anecdotal, but hey it is a book not a science study. Most books like that are way too anecdotal. This one at least puts in the footnotes (in the back not as you go).
About the same time my daughter and I were discussing social evolution. My daughter is autistic and never talks about middle of the road things. For her it is always about how much she loves her dog, her struggles with life, or about really deep issues facing the world. But she wanted me to read an article that talked about differing thoughts on evolution and about how some people in the way north couldn't understand Darwinism because their thoughts on evolution were more symbiotic than a bloody battle between organisms for a niche in the environment. To them evolution was coevolution. You don't live alone. Life is harsh. You live in web where everything relies on one another for life.
I have a spring vegetable bed that needs to be filled with something (as I can't eat legumes anymore and fava beans won't be grown). So I'm thinking fermenting cabbage might be a good way to deal with it and make sure it gets preserved. I've not liked sauerkraut in the past. I've never learned how to ferment things even though my parents did it when I was a child. But I've taught myself to like things I've hated as a child before. And fermented food is supposed to be good for gut health. So I bought a book called "The Art of Fermentation". I haven't read much yet, but he is reiterating everything above. We coevolved with microorganisms. He puts even a greater twist on the evolution. He asks whether we have domesticated these bacteria or garden plant or animal, or whether they have domesticated us. I've heard that debate before with dogs, but never with plants or microorganisms.
Along with the fermented garden vegetables I was looking into another fermented food. Kefir - a fermented milk. As a child my parents would make kefir, but I never did. I wasn't a great fan. But my tastes have indeed changed. To my morning smoothies I've been adding bought goat milk kefir from the store for the last couple of months. It has a wider range of probiotics than yogurt does. Over the last week I've been reading up on it with a thought of making it myself (not in the above book yet which I just started, but on the internet). I found that kefir is a really interesting piece of coevolution. Kefir is not made like yogurt, but has "grains" which are a symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast that hold together in a mass.
Scientists have tried to reproduce kefir grains from the microbiota that are in it, but can't. The ones there have evolved to work together and need each other to reproduce itself. In addition this colony of biota are symbiotic to humans. Without humans it wouldn't exist as it needs milk to grow and milk outside a mammal didn't exist until humans came along and started milking animals. The kefir preserves milk without refrigeration. Though today we preserve it in the fridge after producing it, it will keep a long time just sitting on the counter.
Many people state on their pages that it kills E. coli and other pathogens, but a very quick look at the literature will show you that is only sort of true. There are some strains of E.coli and other organisms (Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, and Yersinia enterocolitica) that have evolved to tolerate the high lactic acid content of kefir. Most strains it will kill, but not all. That being said there have been no outbreaks of illness due to kefir so it is a very safe form of cultured milk even though it is brewed on our counter at room temperature. In addition I found out that what you get from the store really isn't true kefir, but just a bunch of bacteria cultured much like yogurt. Often 8 or 10 organisms where kefir has more like 30. So I may have to get some grains and make it myself.
Over the last couple of weeks I've also been looking at mycorrhizal fungi for my garden. I'm still not sure what I'm going to buy. But I'd like to experiment with it. Michelle has raved about it in her garden. It might be an easy way to make my plants more healthy. Diseases run rampant here for some reason. They are much more common than at my last house. For those that don't know what mycorrhizae are, they are symbiotic fungi in plants. They grow on the roots the plant helps feed the fungi and the fungi helps provide nutrients for the plant.
If you haven't figured this out yet, I'm a nerd. I love science. One of the feeds that I read is from Science Daily. It gives me about 80 articles every weekday gleaned from all the different science publications and summarizes them and makes them available. I glance through them every day and I usually find a few that interest me. They rarely have ones applicable to gardening/farming, but yesterday there were two (here and here). Both about symbiosis. One trying to understand the symbyotic nature of the myccorhizea. The other about how we are disrupting the rhizobia bacteria, a symbiotic bacteria of legumes, by feeding nitrogen to the plants.
So this must be my year of symbiosis since it keeps coming into my life. Years ago I wrote a blog post about why I garden. I garden to be connected to the natural world. To be close to the web of life. To see the miracle of a seed growing. That growth feeds me, but also drops the seeds for the next generation. The post I wrote said that gardening was artificial, but maybe I shouldn't see it that way. Maybe I should see it as a natural symbiosis. We need those plants to eat and live. But those plants use us too. They get an easy ride as we water and weed them. We plant their seeds a perfect spacing apart. Not all of them get to reproduce, but they will be reproduced. We will make sure of it. The better they feed us, the more we will grow them.