About 10% of our body consists of human cells and 90% of germs. What does it mean?
The latest study from the prestigious National Institute of Health (NIH) (USA) has confirmed that only about 10% of the human body consists of human cells of which there are around 1014 in all. The balance 90% belongs to millions of germ, who have become very close friends of man over millions of years. While many of the germs have got incorporated into our cell cytoplasm (the software of every cell in any organ), millions of them reside permanently inside our gut (mouth to the anus), respiratory tract, skin and vagina/penis.
Our ambitious genome project, and the associated stem-cell research, has gone awry, with this new scientific knowledge. While the human genome has around 20,000-25,000 genes, in all, our friends, the germs, have contributed millions of their genes to us. They are a combination of microbiomes, virinomes and also the genes related to their metabolism, called metabolomes. Together, they form the meta-genome of man which needs to be studied from now on. The NIH project, in the past one decade, has been able to study about 1,087 of those meta-genomes; there are millions more to be explored. At the present rate of research, it might take several decades to unravel the mystery, at a phenomenal cost.
How did our present science miss this vital knowledge? Some of our venerated leaders were responsible for this delay. The leader of the group was Robert Koch with his Koch’s postulates. Many disease-causing germs could not be identified using these archaic postulates. They were all classed as ‘idiopathic’ diseases. While there were occasional successes en route; for example, Helicobacter Pylori was detected in the gut. We have made little headway elsewhere. It is possible that some of our present-day killer diseases, like heart attacks, brain attacks, cancer, auto-immune syndromes, and even some psychological illnesses, might have their origin in some germs as the triggering factors. A whole sea of hidden knowledge is there for bright future researchers to explore.
Germs are a part of the human body; as such, they control our every move. Even to lift a little finger, one needs to get permission from a small germ. This is a very good lesson in philosophy and mundane experiences of daily living. Pride, the greatest enemy of man, has no scientific locus standi in view of the awareness of the human meta-genome. Even the greatest of men have to be subservient to microscopically small germs. Humility, therefore, becomes the order of the day. Humility, according to Indian wisdom, is a sign of highest learning in man. This is a good scientific lesson for all those that are arrogant to think that they can run this world with their money, muscle or brain power.
Advances in physics have added new knowledge in this area too. Now, Hans Peter Duerr, the emeritus president of the Max Planck Institute (Munich), has shown that energy and matter are but the two faces of the same coin—“matter is not made out of matter.” The human mind is the same as human body, again reminding us that the Indian sages were right when they wrote that mind is but man himself—manaevam manushyaanaam. This brings us to the crux of the problem in the medical world, the ghost of adverse drug reactions that kill maximum number of people who seek medical help. An elegant study coming from Oxford, Cambridge, Hamburg and Munich universities, led by Professor Bingel at Oxford, showed that the placebo effect, or the expectation effect, which depends on the patient’s faith in the doctor, is much more powerful than all the drugs available.
If the human mind is tranquil, the human body rarely suffers from any physical illness. The same applies to psychiatric illnesses. The old idea—that mental illnesses have chemical background—has been challenged scientifically. Almost all psychiatric drugs have come under fire with this new wisdom. If we could dance with our germ friends inside us and keep our mind tranquil, we could, one day, win our war against illnesses. Dance with the germs to live life fully—Vivacitas!
(Professor Dr BM Hegde, a Padma Bhushan awardee in 2010, is an MD, PhD, FRCP (London, Edinburgh, Glasgow & Dublin), FACC and FAMS.