I was by the Gulf of Mexico the other day. It was a warm lovely day. Idyllic.

IMG_2476-300x225The surf orchestrated its primal background music and seagulls called out to their friends. The light was intense, the warmth enveloping, the gamy salty rich aroma of baking gulf goulash was strong.

But something was wrong.

It started with the people around me. Their throats were tingling. Their eyes were watering. They began to cough – the dry swift hard cough. And soon after, I began to cough.

We had lost control of our bodies. Our body’s auto mechanisms took over and we became onlookers – carefully watching each other for worsening signs.

As we traveled toward town, we found more and more people with the same symptoms. So we started our non-rigorous Proof Process:

Flu – no.
Cold – no.
Allergies – no.

We stopped by the beach – dead fish. Stronger, more frequent, more violent coughing.

Red Tide – maybe – probably.

We confirmed the diagnosis from a public health official – Red Tide.

Red Tide is a term used to describe a specific type of Harmful Algal Bloom that involves high concentrations of a dinoflagellate called Karenia brevis, a microscopic marine algae that occurs naturally but normally in low concentrations . In high concentrations, its toxin paralyzes the central nervous system of fish so they cannot breathe. The density of these organisms during a bloom can exceed tens of millions of cells per litre of seawater, and often discolor the water a deep reddish-brown hue.

La-Jolla-Red-Tide.780-300x210Humans can become seriously ill from eating oysters and other shellfish contaminated with red tide toxin. Karenia brevis can cause eye and respiratory irritation- coughing, sneezing, tearing, and itching- to beachgoers, boaters and coastal residents. Red tides occur naturally off coasts all over the world.

We are just beginning to explore the immensity and complexity of the microbiome. These microscopic organisms inhabitant the earth, the water and the air. They are present within and on the surfaces of our bodies and all other larger life forms. The microbiome affects every system on earth, yet we have just begun to understand, characterize and thoughtfully plan for our mutual symbiotic futures. We are far more impacted by the microbiome than the microbiome is by us.

As we explore complexity, the microbiome emerges as an essential ingredient in Nurture, Equality, Truth and Systems. From health to agriculture, from economics to enterprise, from sustainability to energy, we will need to exponentially increase our understanding of the microbiome and its exchanges. We were built from a microbiome, by a microbiome with help from billions of microbes.

Karenia brevis has the potential to affect millions of people. It has the potential to kill fish and manatees and other aquatic based life and can deplete available oxygen in closed waters. Its spores spread across hundreds of miles and were inhaled by every person and animal within outdoor range. Inhaling minute amounts was enough to ignite bodily mechanisms to expel it or produce inflammations and autoimmune reactions.

Red Tide is a Red Flag. A WARNING. A CAUTION.

Minute quantities of certain forms of microbiome can trigger catastrophic systemic changes – from localized nano-exchanges, to neuro-toxic deconstructions to massive blooms within or without the body that overwhelm the defense mechanisms of complex life forms. Also, we are certainly missing key opportunities to understand how the microbiome can be guided toward all sorts of potentials that enhance life on earth and mitigate suffering.

Instead of viewing living systems as relatively stable or chaotic, we are better served by adopting an autopoetic view that suggests there are reds and blues and neutrals everywhere, there are balances and imbalances everywhere, there are generative developments that enhance or damage potentials everywhere.

When we intervene in any way, it would be nice to know why with a Proof Process that all of us can get our heads around. Having a clear set of objectives is always the first step, and it always starts with Nurture, Equality, Truth and especially Systems. All of us can contribute to observation and data gathering and exploration of the microbiome. There are global efforts to map the human microbiome and the microbiome of the earth. Those efforts and others need to involve social networks that enable and empower all of us to join in the science first, then in personal and societal decisionmaking and investment.

Y Worlds. The global knowledge commons where everyone is a practicing scientist.

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