Symposium sɪmˈpəʊzɪəm :
- a conference or meeting to discuss a particular subject.
- a collection of essays or papers on a particular subject by a number of contributors.
- a drinking party or convivial discussion, especially as held in ancient Greece after a banquet (and notable as the title of a work by Plato).
Before Twitter, LinkedIn, Skype and YouTube, there were symposiums. These quaint gatherings survived their digital disadvantage almost certainly for reasons related to the third definition above.
Back in 1972, at the Second International Symposium on Intestinal Microecology, discussion of a very intriguing science filled the halls.
The participants learned that microbes covered our planet two billion years before humans did. Microbes accepted us into their world. The endorsement was less due to our hulking sizes and cute noses than a very useful hiding place: our guts.
T.D. Luckey, leader of the symposium and researcher at the University of Missouri in the United States, wrote about the symbiosis which developed between such disparate figures in the tree of life.
“Warm-blooded vertebrates approach the ideal as a biostat; constant temperature, ingesta slowly and regularly released from the stomach into the intestines, continual water availability, automatic waste removal, and new models, via reproduction, are available at least yearly in small animals. The efficiency of the vertebrate biostat is increased by microbic recycling of ingesta; 50 generations of microbes can utilize the vertebrate’s food during 1 day. This recycling continues with fecal excretion. The ultimate efficiency is exhibited when the host dies; the whole biostat is biodegradable.”
Luckey—through hard work too, no doubt—was also ambitious to learn of microbial connections as to their impact on men travelling in space. Space travel was fairly new back then and generous funding followed the excitement roused by moon walks and talk of Mars visits. Yet, outer space hasn’t proven to be as fruitful as our inner space.
Through genomic classifying and massive funding for microbiome projects, the resulting data has ignited the world of “microecology.” Data sharing across platforms has driven this not-exactly-new science to scale fresh universes where bacteria and yeasts are recognized for their roles in human health. Links go way beyond gut health, of course. Our bones, hearts and brains also depend on the sharing culture.
Luckey wrote in 1972 in the paper “Introduction to intestinal microecology.” published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition::
“Such understanding is needed for manipulation of this last, uncontrolled vector in our environment for the improved health and well-being of mankind.”
“…last, uncontrolled vector…”
Uncontrolled for sure but probably not the last. Look around.