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Monday, January 17, 2011

Opinions on the topic of Vegetarianism - Part 7

This is a continuation of a topic. See part 1 for an introduction.

Note: Italics refer to quotes posted by other people.

Ideoform Msg. 647

Other poster quoting Ideoform: "...what we think, dream and conceptualize is the formation of the very future we are heading toward. The future we are becoming is the one we are formualting right here with our thoughts, intentions, desires, choices and actions. "

>>>>>Very well said, Is this one of your quotes? I don't see a name behind it. It should be framed and hung on a wall."

It's metaphysics. You can quote me as the author, but I learned it from studying truth in various forms over the years. The physical world is constructed this way.

Caution-- Boring explanation part follows:
The universe at a sub-atomic level is constructed of vibrating strings, by a current theory in physics. The vibrations come into existence at a quantum level from which many possibilities exist. This is the point at which consciousness interacts with form (through movement), and ultimately the universe you see is the result of the collective intersection of all consciousness, particularly your own. By the very nature of being the observer--you select outcomes. The present moment is the pivot point.

We all create the future whether you believe this or not... or study metaphysics. On a very mundane level, what you put out into the world comes back to you. If you are a very aggressive person, the whole world seems wary and possibly aggressive. Psychologists call it "projection" but it is also a way of seeing the creation process.

It's been called new age mumbo jumbo, until quantum physics, the formulation of the holographic paradigm, the study of dark matter and string theory began seeing these relationships in the study of atomic structure, and astronomy. Yet it's been a part of human knowledge for dozens of centuries.

There now is no question at all in quantum physics--proven by replicated experiments--that the act of observation changes what is observed at an atomic level. Not only that, but the interactions between various paired sub-atomic particles happens simultaneously at a distance, with nothing, not even a wave form, in-between them.

Ecclesiastes 11:1 "Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth." “Give generously, for your gifts will return to you later.”
Galatians 6:7, “... A man reaps what he sows.”

Luke 6:38,“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

If we were Gods to animals (or plants, or whatever), would we consider their pleas as assiduously as we hope God will consider ours? If the universe is a mirror of our hearts, and inner longings, and the level of compassion we have learned to show, then perhaps the world we see is only the result of our own limitations of compassion, not God's. Perhaps we kill and are killed because they are two sides of the same coin.

Our true limitations, then are the scope of our own ideals, expectancies, conscience, and dreams, not the physical laws we then operate with as a result of our scientific understanding.

What use is a tool if it is used against its purpose? Is the physical understanding more important than how it comes to be?


Ideoform Msg. 771

I know, its quotes. I just had to post this one because when I read it, it appears to directly answer the original OP's question of this thread:

"My situation is a solemn one. Life is offered to me on condition of eating beefsteaks. But death is better than cannibalism. My will contains directions for my funeral, which will be followed not by mourning coaches, but by oxen, sheep, flocks of poultry, and a small traveling aquarium of live fish, all wearing white scarfs in honor of the man who perished rather than eat his fellow creatures."

~George Bernard Shaw

OK. So I am going to personalize this quote with more comments about my experiences with vegetarianism just so you have more to digest (so to speak.) :)

I was discussing vegetarianism with my sister yesterday. My sister became vegetarian "for her health" in high school, (mainly to loose weight, and to train for competitive swimming) but a few years later went back to eating meat because she heard it wasn't that much healthier to avoid meat altogether. She said she ended up eating too many refined carbohydrates, and too much cheese...and wasn't really staying as thin as she would like. She's been a size 4 to size 6 her whole life.

"I did not become a vegetarian for my health, I did it for the health of the chickens." ~Isaac Bashevis Singer

I, on the other hand, ate meat in high school, (and tons of dairy products) and was very thin, also. I thought my sister was just doing a fad diet at the time. But later, in college, while taking a philosophy class, and studying world religions, I became a vegetarian for ethical reasons, like Mr. Singer above.

In some ways I felt really strong for a while, I was a crew on a racing sailboat, lifted weights, did running, took a bicycle everywhere, learned fencing, ballroom dancing and yoga. But after some very stressful events, I got sick and didn't heal well from it. I think the stress caused me to react to some foods I was eating, and in particular, wheat and dairy products, but I didn't know this then. At the time, I was eating a lot of cheese sandwiches, and I think just because I was busy with college and three jobs, I really didn't want to cook that much from scratch.

So I felt gradually worse over time. When I got married ten years later, I went to eating meat again so the whole family could eat the same things. I got distressing symptoms for about a year after starting to eat meat again because my body wasn't used to digesting meat--meat requires a very different type of digestion; more stomach acid, mainly to kill bacteria, and the chemical urea is produced (which isn't the case with vegan foods) which can build up in your system, crystalize and cause gout, which is very painful.

I didn't get gout, because I think gout is mainly from eating more than 3 oz. of meat a day, combined (usually) with drinking alcohol (particularly red wine.) I hadn't drunk alcohol for 35 years. But as we age, our kidneys and liver have a harder time flushing out the urea quickly enough before it starts to build up and crystalize in the body, so many people I know who are my age group are getting gout.

Anyway, after more stressful events related to my child being in the hospital (hospital food is not that sitting around in waiting rooms worrying is probably the worst form of non-exercise there is.) I gained weight, even though I was eating pretty much a normal American diet, and a normal amount of calories. I got high cholesterol, and always felt fatigued, even though I was less active than before.

I have finally lost weight, after completely eliminating two specific proteins in my diet...gluten and casein. I am now the healthiest I have been since high school. I think going on a vegetarian diet for your health is not going to automatically make you more healthy.

From my experience, there is a lot more to eating healthy than just giving up meat, because what's left after you eliminate meat from the typical American diet is really pretty un-healthy food unless you are very careful about what you eat.

Plus there is the side-effect of annoying your friends and family if you are not diplomatic about it, and active relationships with friends and family are essential to good health:

"Vegetarianism is harmless enough though it is apt to fill a man with wind and self-righteousness."

~Robert Hutchison, address to the British Medical Association, 1930

To complicate things even more I met someone I really like who happens to be a vegetarian. He does eat some fish. (This is not why we met, or what we have in common.) Even though I was a vegetarian for 17 years, he's the first vegetarian I have ever dated. (So now I get to see what it is like from the other side of the dining table.)

He had a major heart attack (he ate meat before the aattack.) He actually died at one point while in surgery. He avoided getting a pacemaker and further surgery by changing his diet and exercising, learning to meditate, and taking certain supplements designed to remediate deficiencies shown in his labwork, among other things.

He was given less than 5 years to live and has outlived that by several years. He can't stand even the smell of meat cooking now. He also remembers how poorly the animals were treated when he was growing up in a farming community, and says that nobody would eat meat if they were to visit the places animals are raised and slaughtered now.

"Heart attacks... God's revenge for eating his little animal friends."

~Author Unknown

"You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity."

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

He's now the healthiest, most active person I have dated so far, since dating again.

Recently we went out with a friend of his who wanted to go to a Polish buffet that had a lot of meat dishes, and he couldn't go there because he can't stomach the strong smell of the meat cooking. He had a very viceral reaction to it.

"Nothing more strongly arouses our disgust than cannibalism, yet we make the same impression on Buddhists and vegetarians, for we feed on babies, though not our own."

~Robert Louis Stevenson

I didn't go looking for a vegetarian to date. It wasn't on my profile. I just found that a compatible person for me happened to be a vegetarian even though I wasn't anymore. I think that vegetarians show a certain compassion toward the human condition that my situation requires.

I had thought when I eliminated gluten and casein that I would not be able to go back to being a vegetarian, but I now only eat fish and eggs and no other meat products. I like this way of eating. I feel good, I like the foods I cook and buy, I'm not hungry, I don't miss the way I used to eat at all.

I can manage both limitations now since I have been on the gluten free/casein free diet for over a year and I have it memorized and really know it. I can cook everything and find lots to eat wherever I go now. Restaraunts are pretty good with special diets, allergies and all kinds of special requests. There are many more products on the shelves that are healthy choices for prepared foods too...that aren't just junk laced with preservatives, artificial flavorings and pesticides.

The latest on my health, is I have gone back to doing all the things I used to do in high school and college again, with no fatigue, no medications anymore, no problems, no dieting to loose weight, but I am loosing a small amount each week (1/2 a pound or so) with no cravings or hunger for anything. I run 3 miles every day, learned swing dancing and go dancing weekly, I lift weights, go sailing again, and now am going touring bicycling again. I take a chewable calcium, some vitamin B12, once in a while, and I cook with cast iron pots for iron (which works--my Doctor is surprised at my iron levels being very good.)

"In the strict scientific sense we all feed on death - even vegetarians."

~Mr. Spock, Star Trek, "Wolf in the Fold"

I think that vegetarianism is an attempt to create a life that does not further any kind of suffering....not to save animals from death, for we all die, animals included, but to create a world where suffering of any kind, of any living being is considered with compassion and not ignorance. We are a big part of forming the world we live in--and how we learn to treat each other and learn compassion is a big part of how we experience it. How can we learn compassion better? This is one way.

I think the universe is perfect, but in Gnosticism, the world is a bad place created by a nasty God (demiurge) who was created by the Universe and the material world is a nasty place that we must learn to escape. Evidence for this is the fact that simply to exist we must end something else's life.

Sadly, to create fuel for our bodies that doesn't kill something has changed our health. Processed, food-like substances (fake food) are usually produced from living plants, anyway. To eat only non-living substances might remove all connection we have to the living world, the world of nature, God's world, divorcing us from our source even further.

"If vegetarians eat vegetables, what do humanitarians eat? "

Ideoform Msg. 813

"One-quarter of what you eat keeps you alive.
The other three-quarters keeps your doctor alive."

~Hieroglyph found in an ancient Egyptian tomb.

Ideoform Msg. 925

Morals vs. moralizing.

It's almost impossible to state a moral or value without making someone else feel guilty or wrong. Any social pressure that is not law, is a choice people make. If I set my personal standard to only obeying the law, I might still do some harmful (or stupid) things, but the government leaves that up to me. That doesn't make it better to do--my behavior just won't put me in jail or have me paying a fine. Using seatbelts and child car seats used to be voluntary...but they were always a good idea. I know, I used to be in the Children's Hospital a lot, and saw the end results.

So if I set myself a standard--any standard--that is more work, more sacrifice, more costly, than that required by law, I set myself up for the social consequence of making other people uncomfortable around me sometimes...and sometimes uncomfortable enough that they ridicule me to feel better about what they aren't doing, that I am doing.

It is so interesting to see such a bland topic as this: "What some people aren't eating."
getting so much attention. Its not enough to make the news, generally, what people aren't doing. People are smoking less. Not that great a news story compared to so many others. That doesn't make it any less of an accomplishment for human health. Some people lost their jobs in the tobacco industry because of less consumption. Perhaps that will make the news someday....

If you have a value, and follow it, that isn't news either. Until you start to tell other people your value-- that is considered preaching. (Unless you are a parent, then it is considered acceptable to tell a person a value as long as they are underage.) So no matter what the value is; protecting the environment, minimising the suffering of food animals, treating minorities as equals, going to war, loosing weight, running a marathon for a charity, hunting game, dying your hair, sending thank you notes.... if you have to explain what you are doing to others--instead of just doing it--it can be preachy sounding.

For example. Your friend has lost 30 pounds and looks great, you start to talk, and he/she says to you:
"I went on a 'cleanse' because my Doctor recommended it for my heart."
"I am loosing weight because I am on a fast for peace."
"I decided to become a vegetarian because I don't digest meat very well."
"I joined Peta and they are all vegetarians, so I became a vegan."
"I have cancer, and the chemo drugs make me nauseous."
"I have aids."
"I became a Buddist and am following a 10 day fast."
"I qualified for America's Biggest Looser and just got back from three weeks at the studio."
"My husband died six months ago, and I can't seem to cook anything just for myself without missing him so much."

The answer makes all the difference. Some of the answers might make you wish you hadn't asked. But the end result is the same...your friend lost some weight. The significance of it can be so varied...and this is the difference between morals and moralizing. The person who chose to become a Buddist, or a Peta activist, or a hunger-striker is going to make a very different impression on you with their answer even if they do nothing else but to answer your question--no preaching, no moralizing, no other explanation.

The only way to get this issue this much attention on this dating forum was to set it to an extreme--where what is not being eaten is a matter of life or death. (However, in almost no real-life circumstance is not eating something going to be life or death unless you are giving up all food entirely, and permanently, and that would be suicide or mental illness on the level of anorexia. Hmmm, well, I guess diabetes and sugar would fit this, as well as Celiac and gluten, and peanut allergies and peanuts.) The question would have to be on the order of: "What political issue would make you go on a hunger strike?" or something like that.

But the alternative question might sound wacky, like; "Would you eat meat if you were deathly allergic to it, if you were in a banquet honoring a famous cattle rancher?" No meat eater is going to be risking their lives immediately by eating normal meat, so you can't reverse the question. Can anyone come up with the logical opposite question from the one being asked? For one thing, people don't usually eat meat primarily for moral/ethical/religious reasons.

But this is a developed country, and most people who are truly starving are on the desert island of public opinion...they are invisible to us.

We can focus on the extreme case of a well-nourished vegetarian person falling onto a desert island in a plane wreck, or we can focus on how to talk about real starvation, and how food choices in developed countries affect the rest of the world and what actions might be able to solve the problems created by the vagaries of the food industy and distribution issues.

If being vegetarian helps anyone or anything, then isn't that a good thing? And then, if it is, does it have to be moralized about? Or can it just be something good, like wearing seat-belts?

I think people reject having to explain wanting to live....

There is nothing wrong with wanting to live in a survival situation...and also nothing wrong with being required to bend one's values in order to survive if necessary. And also nothing wrong with not bending at all...and not surviving. (As long as that isn't against the law, its their choice, right?)

Some people seem to think they can't live comfortably without meat, and others see meat eating as a luxury they can easily give up for a variety of reasons.

But asking for an explanation means you have to accept the answer being written here, and not reject that the explanation is even being given. After all, this is a free website forum, nobody is loosing any money, and nobody has to read all the postings, or any postings at all. As long as people follow the forum posting rules, you can give your opinion. Moralizing has its own forum, in the form of the hidden Religion forum.

I say, lets find a real problem...not a plane wreck, or some other statistically insignificant problem that is mainly by chance or accident. And lets find some real solutions. And maybe a part of the solution will include changing the way we eat in this country. And that might be something almost all of us are already trying to do anyway.

I say, lets talk about some of the ideas people have come up with about food production, distribution and consumption that seem to be designed to solve some issue that concerns people. Like:

* Fair Trade,
* Buying food locally grown,
* Organic food production,
* Non-genetically modified food,
* Buying heirloom varieties to protect biodiversity,
* Supporting local farmers by going to farmer's markets.

I have one. I like what the Kosher designation tries to do. It's a bit out of date, and specific to mainly one culture/religion, but a good idea nonetheless. It is like an independent evaluation of food, like when an inspector comes to a restaraunt and looks for cleanliness back in the kitchen where you as a customer don't get to see.

Only I think we could get or create a group (probably not Peta--they obviously are good at rabble-rousing, not inspection) that could go in and inspect various aspects of food production/distribution/consumption with regard to ethical issues like the food blog The Ethicurian points out. The group could be non-sectarian, or multi-sectarian, or have a collaborative approach with scientific methodologies, and health specialists.

There is a guy on Oprah who specializes in health coaching, who developed some standards for food and has been allowed to put a symbol on packaged foods saying that they meet his health standards for weight loss reasons, such as low-sodium and low-fat.

The advantage of his label is like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Quality used to be. Another pair of eyes on the industry, so you can find foods you trust to be of a certain quality based on certain pre-set standards. Now we have a similar symbol for "Fair Trade," and for "Organic," although these standards sometimes are variable. We also have the "No Animal Testing" label for cosmetics.

The problem is agreeing on a standard, any standard that might make sense. But if the health coach on Oprah can do it, anybody can. You don't need a federal law to do this. You can just start one. Say, the standard is the least suffering for a food animal during its slaughter. Someone trained to do this could visit slaughterhouses, and rate them on a scale of one to ten, and simply publish the results somewhere. This makes the invisible, visible. We can't see how an animal died on the package when we buy the meat. Not that anyone needs a photo...but having someone else you trust, visit the place and give it a rating makes the unknown variable now something you can base your purchase on.

Its the stuff that hides in the shadows that can rot...the things nobody sees because they don't care to look...the places nobody wants to in the sewers. The sewers are necessary to all of us, but why should any of us have to go down there just to make sure things are running smoothly and up to code? That's what inspectors are for. And independent inspectors might be nice, if there was something going on that corrupted the original inspectors. I'm not saying slaughterhouses have corruption. But they do have a bias...toward the efficient slaughter at the least cost of our food. There is no incentive for them to consider suffering when they are already causing the animals to die anyway.

But if we can have such nuances about our food as to: how many trans-fats, how many calories, how many omega 3 fats, how much sugar, what types of allergens it contains, how it looks, cartoon characters on the box, etc., etc., and these matter to somebody then if this matters to people, it could be done and marketed to benefit the business. Just like Starkist markets its tuna as dolphin-safe.

Ideoform Msg. 939

...."More properly then, a pescatarian "...

I'm a pescatarian, too. I eat seafood, but I am concerned about the heavy metals and factory farming of seafood, so I don't eat seafood every day.

I just listened to a radio show today on NPR where the columnist "Miss Conduct" (similar to Miss Manners) was interviewed, and the discussion came up about how to have a dinner party when your friends all have very different eating styles and issues...Kosher, vegetarian, gluten-free, low-calorie, peanut allergic, etc., etc.,.... and she said that in today's world, we are becoming more and more aware of the diversity of values and lifestyles.

It used to be we all thought of one generic ideal for a person--marriage, family, lifestyle--and to be polite meant only needing to be aware of that set of values. Like writing thank you notes. She said it's ok to have varied lifestyle choices and values and still get along...well, we seem to be working on that. But it isn't ok to wear your lifestyle "in someone's face" in; someone is eating a hamburger at a party and you say to them, "Oh, I'm a vegetarian now." It's going to seem judgemental.

Food is so important to our lives; and this makes it even more of an issue when in social situations. We celebrate with food, we socialize with food, we use food as a topic of discussion, we have rituals involving food in almost every religion, we associate food with security, with nurturing, with comfort, and every lifestyle and every generation has its "in" foods. (Hot food, what a concept.) We use certain foods and their availablility or scarcity as status symbols, or symbols of rebellion, during a boycott. Right now, one of the 'in' foods is pomegranates.

Certain foods are almost ritualised in certain sports and recreation. I went to a baseball game last week (our team won!) and I was amazed to find a vegetable wrap at the hot dog stand, and hard lemonade as a choice instead of beer....but the beer and hot dogs were such a part of the ambiance of the experience, I wouldn't change it. At least in my generation...perhaps the next generation will prefer other foods to remind them of their childhoods. (I didn't "cheat," I had the maple roasted nuts, and a pickle, my date had the vegetable wrap, and I brought gluten-free pretzels that are addicting.)

So we have more choices now but the rules of etiquette aren't keeping up. For instance, how do you react when the same thing is done on the internet, in a public forum or on Face book? Does it seem judgemental when answering a question about vegetarianism?

I have thought of a new label for myself, which I am going to wear proudly: "Pesky-tarian." I have decided that I am going to have to get used to being seen as slightly judgemental whenever the subject of what I eat/don't eat comes up. Maybe I will put this label on a bumper sticker on my van so I can warn people right up front and not suprise anyone.

Why do I need a label? I guess so I can find other Peskytarians so I have a group around which I can relax and feel comfortable about my value choices concerning what I eat. And, no, Peta doesn't count, because they don't eat seafood. Even if they cheat, Sorry. There is such a thing as too pesky for a pesky-tarian. Plus, I don't want to have to do a security search on them when they come to my buffet, which might actually have some chicken on it.

(Oh, and Miss Conduct said she has a menu plan on her blog for a buffet that takes into account all the usual dietary restrictions so many of us seem to have now. She says a helpful rule is to have at least two things each person can eat, one has to be a protein item.)


Ideoform Msg. 1027

Post # 365:

"We just have no respect for the other species on the Planet. Even if I were on that island with a dog, I'm sure I couldn't eat it just to survive. (I might be tempted, though, if it were a small, yappy dog.)

This is such a burden for me. Many nights I lie awake, my mind tormented by thoughts of how evil humans are. Do you know about the smallpox genocide? It was speciesism at its most brutal. Humans set out deliberately to eradicate smallpox as a species, destroying its habitat and using toxic chemicals with no mercy. And after slaughtering billions upon billions of individual viruses, they succeeded.

And to flaunt our dominion over other life forms, we kept a few viruses alive as trophies. We locked them away in a couple labs, like tiny, lonely animals in zoos. If one day we become bored with even these few survivors, we can kill them, too. Yes, I know some will trot out the tired old fact that smallpox killed more humans than all the wars and diseases in history. My answer is this: So what? It is (or was) a species, just like humans. Who made us the judge of its right to live? That was for Gaia to decide!

p.s.: Do not buy honey, or any product (like some breads) that contains it! Working together, enlightened humans can one day put an end to the cruel and shameful enslavement of bees."

Post # 374:

"All the way down to the weakest of creatures , those wonderful bacteria & viruses kill each other.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved a mixture of viruses as a food additive to protect people.
The additive can be used in processing plants for spraying onto ready-to-eat meat
and poultry products to protect consumers from the potentially
life-threatening bacterium Listeria monocytogenes (L. monocytogenes).

The viruses used in the additive are known as bacteriophages.
Bacteriophage means "bacteria eater."
A bacteriophage, also called a phage (pronounced fayj), is any virus that infects bacteria.

No one seems to wonder the sentience, suffering and pain of these creatures."

I hate to go so far back in this thread, but I recently came across this article about the life experience of bacteria. It sounds like an anthropology article.

I believe that all life forms have all aspects similar to our own. Many things about us that we think are exclusively human, like social behavior and altruism are present, and make the arguments of our specialness as a reason that we can eat meat without regard to how it was produced less compelling. As above, so below. I think the pattern of life is the same for all life, and this pattern reflects itself, like a hologram, in all living things.

Since we consider ourselves to be a social species, and one that can uniquely comprehend abstract concepts such as the meaning, purpose, and value of social behavior, then we humans *should* be more likely to consider the value and importance of social behavior than the lifeforms we are referring to, not less. Unfortunately, the reality is that most Americans are using our sophisticated abstract reasoning ability to discount and minimize the similarities and abilities of other species, and to rationalize their use and exposure to abuse for our convenience and taste preferences.

Is it possible that many of our uniquely human abilities are present at all levels of life, from amoeba on "upward?" I think that the only reason we are seeing such uniqueness in humans is by selective forgetting. Our society has become less agrarian, and we are forgetting the source of our food -- forgetting the intimate connection we have with other life forms that give us life. And so we can selectively choose to forget our immense control and influence on the quality of the lives that take other forms than our own.

In this vein, I offer the latest bacteria research, of which this is only one of many examples:

One-Celled Socialites
Bacteria mix and mingle with microscopic fervor
~Bruce Bower

Welcome to a vibrant social scene that has operated largely in secret until the past few years. Its participants don't seem to mind going unnoticed. They congregate in immense numbers to fend off enemies and the brute forces of nature, to obtain food, to reproduce, and to move to greener pastures. They're adept at forming bands to hunt prey, which are consumed on the spot. Vital messages repeatedly course through these assembled throngs. Under some circumstances, certain community members sacrifice their lives for the good of the rest. At other times, entire congregations cozy up to unsuspecting hosts before coalescing into stone-cold killers.

(Photo showing intricate patterns of bacterial growth.)
OUT ON A LIMB. Starvation conditions elicit a series of branching offshoots from a colony of Paenibacillus dendritiformis bacteria grown in a laboratory.

A. Shoob, Ben Jacob
All this high drama occurs in the microscopic world of bacteria. As the first form of life on Earth, one-celled organisms have lots of experience in getting together by the billions or even trillions to procure and process energy sources. Yet only in the past several years have scientists with a variety of academic backgrounds launched an intensive effort to explore the social lives of bacteria and other microorganisms.

Research on bacterial gatherings got a boost in 2001 from behavioral ecologist Bernard J. Crespi of Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia. Crespi reviewed findings from the past few decades on social behavior among microorganisms that "would be strangely familiar" to researchers who study the social ways of insects and vertebrates, he concluded.

Cooperation among individuals lies at the heart of social behavior in both microbes and animals visible to the naked eye, according to Crespi. For instance, just as bees build hives, many bacterial species create and inhabit sticky substances known as biofilms. Bacteria encased in biofilms thrive in moist settings, such as on ships' hulls, in sewage-treatment plants, on our teeth, and sometimes, with ill effects, in our lungs.

As in coalitions of creatures such as ants and naked mole rats, Crespi adds, bacterial colonies often feature a division of labor in which some members rarely or never reproduce but nonetheless provide other critical services to the community. Rhizobium bacteria, for example, form nodules that transfer nitrogen to plant roots and shuttle essential carbon to bacteria in and just outside the nodule. Bacteria in the nodule often refrain from reproducing, while their neighbors on the outside multiply fervently.

"The study of social behavior in bacteria has taken off in the last 3 or 4 years," says behavioral ecologist Ashleigh S. Griffin of the University of Edinburgh. "It's much easier to do experimental work on such behavior in microorganisms than in traditionally studied animals."

Scientists predict that understanding of bacterial cooperation and communication will yield medical breakthroughs. In particular, with such knowledge, researchers may devise new ways to undermine bacterial social bonds and thus neutralize virulent strains before they can kill a person."

Science News, Volume 166, No. 21, November 20, 2004, p. 330.


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