Adventures in the Science of the Superorganism

The Human Superorganism: It is a fact that a woman was threatened by Protective Services to take the child she conceived and delivered naturally because the results of a maternity test showed that the child she gave birth to was not hers.  In December 2002, twenty-one year old Lydia Kay Fairchild received a phone call from the State Prosecutors Office.  It was a difficult time financially for Lydia.  She was unable to provide for herself and her kids.  Lydia applied for state financial aid to make ends meet.  As a condition to the state’s support for her and her three children, Lydia’s boyfriend needed to be identified as the father.  The blood-sample DNA test came back proving that Lydia’s boyfriend was the father of her three children, but Lydia Kay Fairchild was not the mother.  You can only imagine how she felt, not to mention the questions that must have ran through her mind during the whole ordeal.  How could this happen?

Anything seems possible in the science of the human superorgansim.  As it turns out, Lydia Fairchild had three children.  All three of her children’s genes belong to her boyfriend and her sister.  Here’s where it gets weird; the eggs that Lydia was carrying around all her life belonged to her unborn “parasitic” twin.  Today, the term used is “chimerism.”  Lydia’s blood contains her DNA, but her reproductive organs have the DNA of her unborn sister.  Lydia absorbed her sibling when Lydia was being formed in her mother’s womb.  While this is more likely to happen where in vitro fertilization is involved, due to a greater probably of error, Lydia’s blood reflected her own DNA, but other aspects of Lydia’s body (such as her thyroid and reproductive organs) still belonged to her “vanishing twin.”  Lydia was able to prove that she was the mother of her children when the courts found out that Lydia’s thyroid also contained her sister’s DNA.  She was able to keep her three children and the state resumed to provide her with financial support.

We are a superorgansim.  The human microbiome is comprised of over 100 trillion microbes.  Although most of these organisms live in our gut, they live throughout our bodies as well.  The microbiome is comprised of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, foreign human cells, imprinted genes, and viruses.  These organisms communicate with each other.  This is all part of the human superorgansim. As you can imagine, living organisms fight for their own survival and sometimes things get mixed-up.

If you think chimerism is rare, think again.  Kramer and Bressan (2015) have written summaries and analyses of previously completed research of genetic abnormalities, like the one that affected Lydia Kay Fairchild.

Read more about superorganisms in Kramer and Bressan’s journal article How Microbes, Viruses, Imprinted Genes, and Other Selfish Entities Shape Our Behavior. Perspectives on Psychological Science-2015-Kramer-464-81 (1)

Superorganism

References:

Peter Kramer, & Paola Bressan. (2015). Humans as superorganisms : how microbes, viruses, imprinted genes, and other selfish entities shape our behavior. Perspectives On Psychological Science10(4), 464-481. doi:10.1177/1745691615583131

Wallace, W. (2015, October 8). Science of us: Adventures in the science of the superorganism. New York News & Politics. Retrieved from http://nymag.com/tags/gut-brains/

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