What do we inherit? And from whom?

Our parents don’t just give us our genetics. They also give us microbes. Add on top of that the factors of epigenetics and environment that our parents give us and it makes one wonder about the complexity of it all.

Microbes are fascinating. Our entire life is dependent on them. And they make up a large part of our body mass. They don’t just impact our health but also our moods and who knows what else.

Or consider parasites. There is the toxoplasmosis gondii parasite which can have major impact on mammalian psychology, at least for rats and humans. Like rabies, toxoplasmosis changes behavior of the infected in order to spread the infection to others. These little buggers literally control your mind. Conniving clever creatures!

This gives a whole other perspective to parasite load. Parasites are more common in warm regions. It isn’t accidental that some of the poorest countries are also the warmest, as their populations have higher parasite loads. This effects both physical and mental health, stunting development and lowering IQ, among much else.

We’ve barely even researched this area. Most microbes and parasites remain unstudied. We have no clue what they do, good or bad. Most of the genetic material we carry in our bodies isn’t human, and that isn’t even including RNA with its bacterial origins. That should give you pause.

Anyway, genetics are only around 2% of the human genome, the rest being so-called Junk DNA, but scientists have come to realize it serves other purposes. By the way, viruses living in us like to snip out pieces of our DNA and mix them up, just for shits and giggles.

What all of this might mean genetically and epigenetically (i.e., across generations) is entirely up in the air. We live in a fascinating time of ignroance and discovery. Genetic determinists can put that in their pipe and smoke it.

On a positive note, this inheritance isn’t fatalism, as much of it can be changed as an adult. In particular, it should be relatively easy to improve gut health. Just introduce new microbes. And new foods that they like. Be sure your microbes are happy!

‘The Diet Myth,’ ‘The Good Gut’ and ‘The Hidden Half of Nature’
By Sonia Shah, NYT

“Using the improved detection capacity of genetic sequencing techniques, scientists have discovered that 100 trillion microscopic creatures live in and on the body, influencing everything from the intensity of our immune responses and our moods to our dietary preferences and propensity to gain weight.”

‘Infectious Madness,’ by Harriet A. Washington
By Meghan O’Rourke, NYT

“Indeed, a handful of researchers are wondering whether mental illnesses are really caused by our immune system’s response to powerful microbial infections. As Harriet A. Washington reports in her new book, “Infectious Madness: The Surprising Science of How We ‘Catch’ Mental Illness,” some researchers in the field believe microbes may be responsible not only for clear-cut diseases like typhoid and tuberculosis, but also for mental illnesses such as anorexia, obsessive-­compulsive disorder and schizophrenia — but in a less tidy manner. As she reports, research has found that 10 to 20 percent of mental illnesses, including autism, are partly caused by pathogens.”