Sunday, November 26, 2017

Contra Columnis Quintus XV

From Parasites to Charlatans

A Circuitous but Objective Route to Understanding the Latter through the Former

What is fifth column?  Short answer?  A parasite.  It would manifest first as symptomology that seems out of the ordinary for the entity in which it is operative.  This might be in various forms, but the overall condition is that the organism which is operative as a parasite is not an actual faculty of the organism that is the "host".  That is one distinguishing feature.  Some biologists speculate or hypothesize that hosts and parasites may co-evolve insofar as there is evidence that in some cases, such as with Ophiocordyceps unilateralis in its specific relations which, in different species of Ophiocordyceps, coincide with only some preferred species which is/are alone susceptible to it.  But this is just a fine-tuning of a process wherein one organism invades the "private biosphere" of another.

In cases when the theory of evolution narrates the entire discussion of biogenesis, it is decided by the big wigs of the subject that single-cell life forms evolved by certain conditions which favored the development of genetic structures which are enclosed by conditions which favor separating those structures from what is otherwise the "proper environment" for their existence in the first place.  While that might sound chicken-vs-eggy, let it stand as the supposition to prefer rather than aliens, god, or spontaneous abiogenesis without any sensible or scientifically articulable cause.  Let the narrative stand.  Then that means that a symbiosis developed so that some certain chemical compounds, probably the most miraculous which could ever self-assemble in any environment known to man, and certainly it is convenient that a cell wall formed, at whatever point in time, along with it.  Each aspect of this entity seems to be fine with the other.  At some point the family grew, and due to being synergistically inducted into the cellular game, a certain other entity with its own proper existence, what we now come to find in the form of "mitochondria", went from being some sort of independent bacterial entity into becoming an organelle of this cellular being. Chloroplasts are said to have evolved from photosynthetic bacteria.

Whether this was in the best interests, in some higher-dimensional telic space, of those bacteria is perhaps not known or likely to be knowable by the current curators of biological knowledge at the bleeding/cutting edge of the science.  It is probably as debatable as the subject of "just how" such a process of evolution could be modeled as the effect of a specific and unambiguous, concretely causal process.  But it seems that these entities get along well enough in their composite condition so that greater and greater complexities of organic structure can be reliably built upon their union.  It seems that organelles traded off further evolution in some original environment which they shared with the cellular life which inducted them into itself, in exchange for the smaller domain of evolved action, however enhanced, which is to be obtained in that interior cellular existence.

That might not have been the fairest of trades, but let's say it was a decent deal given the intelligible alternatives to that condition, and let's say divergent opportunities are to be left out of the discussion.  The takeaway is that the cellular life which includes various organelles into their composition demonstrate a homeostasis where dead weight is not favored and that there are processes which keep honest the activities of the symbiotic combination.  A great range of viable life forms have evolved from that basic unit of complexity, most forms of life as we know it in this realm fit into this class.  But this is reasonably considered as but an opportunity for further subsumptions of the basic cellular life into either larger-scale forms of increasing complexity, or else being abducted and enslaved for digestion or some other use by other cellular life, either of similar or of greater size and complexity.  Or else they may be infiltrated by some simpler forms of ordered chemical forms and taken advantage of that way, such as by viruses.

This pattern is found amply enough in individual living entities in their relations to one another.  An amoeba may eat a paramecium simply by absorbing it through its outer layers of biomass, and a U.S. Special Forces operative may grab a lizard off a tree while running through a jungle, bite its head off and drink its blood without skipping a beat.  It may be the main form of survival for a life form (as in stable predator/prey relationships), or it may be merely opportunistic (unless somebody likes lizard heads as a regular part of his diet).  The overall pattern is that whatever is ingested is not going to be integrated into the incorporating organism without being destroyed at the baseline of its prior existence as it was when it was independent of the new organism.  That's called being killed and eaten.  If it is done all at once "from the outside" so that the eaten is inducted into the body of the eater, then that is considered devouring in the proper sense.  If the devourer enters into the body of the devoured, then that is considered "parasitism". It seems that this is not more complex either way, but is basically the same process as seen from different perspectives of scale, and so employing different mechanisms and logistics.

While there is a greyish area between these categories of symbiosis, so that they may overlap in some ways, perhaps coinciding or perhaps alternating or substituting for one another, they always amount to the destruction in whole or in part of the independent operation of the targeted organism so that the devourer/parasite may conduct itself in a way preferred by or necessary for the existence of its species.  The raw materials of, or opportunities for, the targeted organism are somehow subsumed under the restrictions necessary for the benefit of the aggressor organism in either case.  So take a mosquito.  No species of mosquito that I know of requires blood in order not to starve per specimen.  But per species, many species of mosquito will die without the organic compounds found in the blood of warm-blooded animals.  They survive nutritively on the organisms they can devour in water, and on nectar of plants, much as do butterflies.  Some are more like the "Mosquito Lion" which devours scum, basically.  Some ravenously seek out the larvae of other mosquitos.  The issue with the blood is that in most of these species if the female does not devour some blood then she will not produce the eggs required for her species to reproduce.

If all of that species' females cannot find that needed protein from the usual source (which their own bodies cannot produce), then that species will not reproduce itself even one more generation, and will die, whether each specimen can find the usual food or not.  The specimens thrive in their usual way, but the species starves and dies. So the mosquito does not per se "devour" blood as needed nutrition, but rather does so as a need upon which it is dependent for its existence as a species as such, or "qua" species.  In that way it is primarily a parasite qua species, but a typical hunter, forager and scavenger otherwise.  So the key difference is that while devouring is a process of ingestion, parasitism is a process of dependence which may or may not be nutritive for the parasite.

To be sure, the purpose is to "devour" the elements of the organism which are targeted by the predator/parasite, and this needn't be nutritive per se, though it can be. Perhaps it is both nutritive and necessary for reproduction in a compound way that is seen in the way that chiggers, ticks, and fleas survive.  They not only need a specific sort of host to serve as prey, but also that prey will serve as host.  They need to eat the blood of their host as their only form of nutrition, and at the same time need that same sort of prey to be host to their mating and reproduction cycles.  All sorts of insect life boast a wide variety of these processes of dovetailing of attributes of "devouring" and "parasitism".  But what of Ophiocordyceps in their relations to the various ant species to which they are individually adapted to act as parasites?  Well, they devour them internally in a way that leads to a behavior change in the host so that the specimens which are infected will take their "guests" for a ride to a specific place for a final act of destroying the host so that the parasitic "guest" can reproduce properly by emitting spores from that location (it is a fungus).  So while other fungi may feed on rotting corpses, and so does this one, this one will also invade the living organism and control its nervous system so that it and often many others of its species will (in tandem) operate to ensure specifically and mainly the reproductive needs of the fungus which has hijacked their entire organism for that purpose.

The mosquito may be considered to be exoparasitic, Ophiocordyceps may be considered endoparasitic, and fleas somewhere in the middle, as they eat blood on the outside, but they lay their eggs on the inside of their host.  Perhaps they should be considered "meso" parasitic.  Whatever the case, they do something which is more tailored toward an asymmetric dependence where the parasite needs the host for more than just nutrition, but also as an environmental condition for their own survival. Some are less specialized in their aggression, but have special conditions which obtain in a way specialized in a way similar to the examples already given. Toxoplasma gondii will survive well in many warm-blooded organisms, but it reproduces sexually only in felines.  Felines, for their part, seem to benefit from being host to these parasites insofar as it seems to assist their hunting of smaller organisms (especially rodents) which are infected by the same entity.  It involves a dependency that is strongly in favor of the Toxoplasma gondii if it continues, and not proportionately in favor of the feline either way.  But whatever it is about the feline small intestine, it is favorable for sexual reproduction in Toxo, so they have a special gain from their host in this case which is not reciprocated in a proportionate manner for felines they infect. Cats will survive and continue to eat without mice who are affected by Toxo, and Toxo will survive without felines and continue to reproduce in some form, but not sexually (unless they adapt somehow, which may or may not occur).  Let's say that the gains for Toxo are far more robust than for their hosts, and are even dangerous to most of them, and may become so for felines they infect.  Cat's don't infect Toxo and put them through the same exposure to risk.  So the asymmetry is apparent even in such cases where some sort of benefit accrues to both species. It might be said that while the toxo is at the service of the feline up to a point, it is simply a derivative of the way that the feline is at the disposal of the toxo

Devouring is a more general process which may or may not involve specialized dependencies between species, and which may require only some portion of what the prey class of entities possess.  It may even be, relative to the organisms involved, symbiotic (such as with certain fish who clean the teeth of sharks).  And since Toxoplasma gondii seem to devour host cells as part and parcel of their reproductive process, for them there is a fusion of devouring and reproducing which depend upon living cells of the host, and so is almost a complete subduction of "metabolic" processes of ingestion into a reproductive act (in the way they invade host cells so as to create reproductive environments which convert that environment's raw materials into the actual reproduction of the toxo themselves).  Toxo literally eat in order to reproduce, and cannot do this outside of a host cell.  So while there is a symbiosis in both cases, the parasitic form destroys its host, in part or in whole, in order to carry out its life cycle successfully, whether from the inside or the outside of the organism which contains the needed facilities. Devouring is simply the assimilative aspect which interfaces the relation between parasite and host, and in fact all predators may be understood to be exoparasitic upon their prey.  

In the same way that a scavenger depends upon the resources it scavenges, and in the same way that a predator depends upon its prey, so does the parasite depend upon its host, and all amount to the former devouring the latter.  The main difference is that those forms of this dependent relation which are called "parasitic" are often more specialized, more asymmetric in ways that span the entire life cycle, or parts of it, in ways not merely restricted to devouring, and asymmetrically favor the parasite in ways which are insidious when compared with straightfoward forms of scavenging and devouring that are seen in other relationships between life forms and that upon which they feed.  But there are analogous forms of "parasitism" which transcend the narrow confines of infectious behaviors of microorganisms vis-a-vis much larger "host environments", and involve similar sorts of dynamic asymmetries which can sometimes be partly mutualistic, and this in ways that are either mildly or severely differentially advantageous to the organisms involved. 

It is in a more macroscopic form, and hence in a more abstract form, that we will examine the fraudulence of fifth-columnry, as though through a biological lens of analogy which should therefore bear out the essence of the matter of fifthery in terms amenable to a semiotic discussion.

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