Nature Blog Network

Friday, January 18, 2008

Return of the Spineless Song - Symbiosis Is Everywhere

"Symbiosis is ubiquitous in terrestrial, freshwater and marine communities. It has played a key role in the emergence of major life forms on Earth and in the generation of biological diversity."
Nancy Moran (2006). Symbiosis. Current Biology 16 (20): R866-R871
Yes my friends, its true. Everywhere. You can't avoid. You are in a symbiosis. You might as well accept it. You have several phyla of eukaryotes on you as we speak. Some are cleaning up dead skin, some are burrowing under your skin. Lets not even talk bacteria and viruses. Everyone does it whether they want it not.

When symbiosis comes to mind, what do you think of first? My guess is that the majority of you thought about mutualism, two or more organisms helping each out, positive-positive relationships. But symbiosis spans the gamut from parasitism to mutualism. Symbiosis is the relationship between 2 (or more) organisms - "Living together". It is a fascinating subject of study. I have been studying chemoautotrophic fauna with with endosymbiotic bacteria for several years now. Thats "chemical self-feeding" critters with "internal" bacteria living inside of it. I never ceased to be amazed at the diversity of interactions. These bacteria can utilize a variety of chemicals, hydrogen sulfide and its derivatives, methane and other gases, iron (and other polymetallic) sulfides, oil, who knows what else we might find as we look closer and delve deeper. To most animals, these chemicals are harmful, if not lethal, at certain concentrations.

My work in the Fisher Lab has made me appreciate symbiosis much more deeply than I would have thought. In this song I sing my praise of symbiosis, in the sense of mutualism (required reading: Ruby E, Henderson B, McFall-Ngai MJ. 2004. We get by with a little help from our (little) friends. Science 303:1305-1307). You can find a link to song in the Spineless Songs Sidebar on your left

Symbiosis is Everywhere

You can in through my skin
Just like infection
But now I can’t live without you

I could never ask you to leave
I need you to feed
We’ve evolved so much to together

When I was but a larva
So young and unsure
You came into my life and showed me the way

We could never be apart
I’ve a place for you
In a specialized organ, maybe two

Cows do it, termites too
corals tubeworms squid who knew?
Symbiosis is everywhere (x4)

I give you a home
you give me some food
Together we can make it in this ocean blue

With our pathways linked
Short chain fatty acids
Is what I want is what I gets

I may bring you sunlight
Methane gas or sulfide
For you I will make exposure so high

You don’t grow too much
Man, don’t parasitize
Theres no prize for oversized

Mussels do it, clams do too
Nematodes, anemone even kangaroo
Symbiosis is everywhere (x4)

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