10 Ways Parasites, Viruses, And Bacteria Have Helped Human Beings


Thanks to the science of viral molecular genetics, we now know quite a bit about the bugs that infected us along our evolutionary path, and we have found that these hitchhikers have done quite a bit to help us along the way. For example, it was the evolutionary pressure they placed upon our immune system that made it as robust as it is today. Additionally, viruses may have played a role in the loss of specific receptors that we once possessed on the surface of our cells that infectious agents could latch onto and use to cause disease. By ridding the human body of this source of disease, viruses created a safer environment for themselves, benefiting everybody involved.But they may have also played a role in ensuring that, among competing hominid species, it was Homo sapiens that came out on top. While our species was developing, disease and parasites encouraged genetic diversity and weeded out the unfit. Once the first Homo sapiens left the continent, they brought their infectious agencies and parasites with them. If you’ve read about North American and European smallpox, you know how this goes. While it wouldn’t have been the only factor, viral parasites would spread to other hominids like Homo neanderthalensis (Neanderthals), who wouldn’t have had any previous exposure to the new bugs and possessed a nasal structure that was less efficient at filtering air and keeping new viruses at bay. They would have devastated other hominid species, because the bugs were primed to live in similar environments, but the hominids were not primed to receive them. Models have shown that if Neanderthals had a mortality rate only 2 percent higher than humans, it would have been sufficient to cause their extinction after 1,000 years of competition. While disease was doubtless not the only factor, it would have certainly played a large role.Most models of human disease evolution claim that they mainly evolved during the Neolithic era, after man moved out of Africa and populations increased, so there is some evidence of this selective viral pressure. Many of these early viruses have even been so successful that their genes have literally become a part of our DNA. For example, the human genome has been found to contain genes from the borna virus that were gained about 40 million years ago. In fact, scientists have isolated about 100,000 elements of human DNA that have come from viruses, mostly within what is called our “junk DNA.” The viruses that make up the majority of our junk DNA are called endogenous retroviruses, and they are so much a part of us that a scientist recently brought one “back to life” and even infected hamsters and cats with it.

10. Modern-Day Medical Uses Of Leeches And Maggots
For thousands of years, the European leech (Hirudo medicinalis) was used in medicine for bloodletting purposes, treating a wide range of disorders from hemorrhoids to ear infections. The practice goes so far back in time that an Egyptian painting from 1500 B.C. depicts their use. While some nations have never stopped using them, the practice fell out of favor in the Western world with the knowledge of bacteria and subsequent focus on the germ theory for medical treatment.In the 1970s and 1980s, though, leeches made a comeback. Cosmetic and reconstructive surgeons found that they were an effective method for draining blood from swollen faces, black eyes, limbs, and digits. They are also helpful for reattaching small body parts like ears and flaps of skin, because they draw away blood that could clot and interrupt the healing process. Leeches have saved people from amputations and may even relieve the pain of osteoarthritis. Even veterinarians sometimes use them.Maggots, on the other hand, are nature’s clean-up crew. They’re great for eating away dead or infected flesh, revealing the healthy tissue below in a process called debridement. They have also been found to be an effective treatment for ulcers, gangrene, skin cancer, and burns, among other things.Maggots and leeches, as gross as they may be, are so effective that the FDA classified them as the first “live medical items” in 2010, paving the way for an entire industry called biotherapy. An organization called Biotherapeutics Education and Research Foundation (BTERF) has even sprung up to raise awareness of the new uses for these old critters, and there are several companies that sell them.

9. Parasites And Our Immune Systems May Have Co-Evolved To Protect Us From Allergies
Researchers studying the effects of gastrointestinal parasites have come up with an astonishing theory: After parasites first colonized our gastrointestinal systems, they evolved over millions of years the ability to suppress our immune systems. At the same time, our own bodies evolved to partially compensate for the effect.The astonishing part, and what this means for human health, is that once parasites and harmless microorganisms present in water and soil have been largely removed from their natural environment inside of us in developed nations through the use of modern medicine, our immune systems actually overcompensate for their loss, leading to allergies and even increased chances for asthma and eczema. This “old friends” hypothesis (sometimes referred to as the “hygiene hypothesis,” though it’s actually more of a complementary theory) has gained more support in recent years as we identify new ways microorganisms have helped us survive over the eons. Clinical trials have been conducted using worms to test against multiple sclerosis, IBD, and allergies.
The main proponent of the old friends hypothesis is Graham A.W. Rook of University College London. He first proposed it in 2003, and since then, it has also been proposed as a possible cause of some forms of stress and depression.Some people have taken the old friends hypothesis to its ultimate logical conclusion that if removing our parasites from society has led to health problems, we should put them back. In 2008, University of Wisconsin professor of neurology John Fleming conducted a clinical study in which he infected multiple sclerosis patients with parasitic worms to test their effectiveness against the disease. Over a period of three months, patients who had an average of 6.6 active lesions around their brain’s nerve cells were reduced to an average of two. When the trial was over, the number of lesions shot back up to 5.8 within two months. In earlier trials, the parasites appeared to have positive effects upon ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease as well.Parasite therapy is still in the experimental phases, however, and probably has negative effects that outweigh the positive ones. As of now, the FDA has classified the worms as biological products that cannot be sold until proven safe. Only one species, Trichuris suis, has been approved for testing under Investigational New Drug (IND) status.

8. Virotherapy
One of the most exciting and promising branches of medicine in recent decades is virotherapy, a biotechnology technique to reprogram viruses to treat disease. In 2005, researchers at UCLA announced that they had turned one of humanity’s deadliest enemies into a cancer-killer when they reprogrammed a modified strain of HIV to hunt down and destroy cancer cells. Around the same time, researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota modified the measles virus to do the same.The technique is similar to the one used to breed genetically engineered plants, in that a virus is used as a gene-delivery vehicle. It has long been recognized as the most efficient means of gene transfer. This system is used for the production of useful proteins in gene therapy and has great potential for the treatment of immunological disorders such as hepatitis and HIV.Viruses have been known to have the potential to treat cancer since the 1950s, but the advent of chemotherapy slowed its progress. Today, virotherapy is proving to be extremely effective against tumors without harming the healthy cells around it. Clinical trials of oncolytic virotheraphy have shown low toxicity and promising signs of efficacy. In 2013, a drug called talimogene laherparepvec (TVEC) became the first drug based on a tumor-killing virus to succeed in late-stage testing.One of the biggest challenges facing researchers is how to deliver the virus where it will do the most good before the body recognizes it as an intruder and mounts a defense. Current research is looking into finding natural tumor-targeting “carriers,” cells that can deliver the virus without either the cell or the virus losing its normal biological functions.

6. Using Viruses To Cure Bacterial Infections
Bacteriophages are viruses that specifically attack bacteria. First recognized by Frederick Twort in 1915 and Felix d’Herelle two years later, they have been used to study many aspects of viruses since the 1930s. They are especially common in soil, where many species of bacteria make their home.Because phages disrupt the metabolism of bacteria and destroy them, it has been long recognized that they could play a role in treating a wide range of bacterial diseases. Because of the innovation of antiobiotics, though, phage therapy was mostly shelved until the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria generated a renewed interest in the field.An individual phage species is generally only effective against a small range of bacteria or even one specific species (its primary host species), which was originally seen as a disadvantage. As we have learned more about the beneficial aspects of our natural flora, though, it has come to be recognized as the advantage that it is. Unlike antibiotics, which tend to kill bacteria indiscriminately, bacteriophages can attack the disease-causing organisms without harming any other bacteria living inside us.While bacteria can develop resistance to both antibiotics and phages, it only takes a few weeks rather than a few years to develop new strains of phages. Phages can also have an easier time penetrating the body and locating their target, and once the target bacterium is destroyed, they stop reproducing and soon die out./Click here for the rest
10 Ways Parasites, Viruses, And Bacteria Have Helped Human Beings 10 Ways Parasites, Viruses, And Bacteria Have Helped Human Beings Saturday, August 02, 2014 Rating: 5
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