I had the privilege of watching “Symbiotic Earth” with a wonderful group of people. The story focuses on Dr. Lynn Margulis but it also features other scientists who were colleagues of hers. Who was she? She was a forward thinking Evolutionary Biologist who did incredible work on how cells change over time, as well as where cells originated.
Darwinism did not really come from Darwin saying things about survival of the fittest, rather that saying comes from his time period and has to do with capitalism and socialism. Instead, Darwin said that each living creature is slightly different (individuals even within the same genus). Who survives is the one who will pass on their DNA. Eventually, a change will be seen. Neo Darwinism is a combination of Darwinism and Mendel-ism. This idea says random changes in DNA cause evolution. However, if you look at Gaia Theory, it says that life on earth governs its own change. James Shapiro’s work was to show that mutations are not random but a need to change to fit the environment or evolutionary intelligence. (7) This is what Margulis and others believed and worked to prove it.
What does this all mean? It means that who we are and all life around us are made up of cells that came together. Did you know that mitochondria are made up of symbiotic bacteria?(6) We are made up of bacteria. The more diverse within our bodies, the healthier we are. Bacteria make sugars, carbohydrates, RNA, and DNA. DNA is not an active participant but rather a storage unit. The cell does all the work. Genomes are an organ of the cell. The cell directs change through epigenetics (modifications of gene expression without altering genetic code). Think flipping a switch on or off here and there. This is huge. This is how we have family members who look like family but are also very different. This is how plants of the same variety will look different even from the seed of the same plant.
Dr. Margulis firmly believed in symbiosis and the research that has to do with Epigenetics. Additionally, she seems to have had the amazing ability to introduce scientists from different areas of study who could bounce ideas off of each other, hear each other’s work, and have new pathways open for discovery in their own field. Margulis could take the research she and others did and present it to the public in a way that was easy to understand and laid out the steps to show proof. That is a remarkable skill.
Whether plants or animals we are all part of symbiosis, the driver of evolution. It would do us well to remember this as we face climate change, habitat loss, floods, fire, and the loss of crops. We truly are all in this together.