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No. 20: Mar-Apr 1982

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Comment. It was quite fortuitous that the following two pieces, found on the same day, fit together so nicely. (Nature is fortuitous!)

A group of scientists studying termites have isolated over 100 species of protozoa and bacteria living cooperatively inside the termites gut. Some of the bacteria even live inside the protozoa and other bacteria forming ecosystems of several symbiotic levels within each termite. Each termite itself is part of a complex social "superorganism," the termite colony. That termites had bugs in-side them has long been known; but the new-found complexity and interdependency of life systems within life systems is remarkable. The researchers believe that the life forms inside the termite work together to create the uniform internal environment needed by all inhabitants, just as the termites themselves cooperate to maintain a favorable environment inside their hill.

(Anonymous; "And Littler Bugs Inside 'Em," Scientific American, 246:78, February 1982.)

The termites, though, are only part of a much larger ecosystem, the earth itself. J.E. Lovelock, in his Gaia, A New Look at Life On Earth, has observed that our planet's environment has actually changed little down the eons despite solar variations. Lovelock's hypo thesis is that all terrestrial life -- animals, plants, termites, etc -- work sym biotically to maintain planetary temperatures, atmospheric constituents, etc., conducive to life, just like the termite's internal residents on a much smaller scale. The Gaia concept was restated by R.A. de Bie in a letter to Nature about the possibility of life in outer space. He observes that terrestrial life, according to Gaia-thought, will naturally develop a species that can carry life off the planet to new and safer environs. Humankind, of course, is the first attempt we know of to create such an agent. Other planetary systems might have differently constituted agents.

(de Bie, Roeland A.; "The Ultimate Question," Nature, 295:8, 1982.)

Comment. To extend the biological analogy, the appearance of humankind represents the "fruiting" or "spore" stage of composite earth life. Humankind or some equivalent life form would thus be an inevitable development of any life colony in the broad and seething universe of galaxies.

From Science Frontiers #20, MAR-APR 1982. 1982-2000 William R. Corliss