Identity is a process, not an object. All Earth life is connected through a common ancestry. Each “individual” (each organism) — cow, beetle, daisy, human — is actually a consortium of transformed and still-living other beings.
Mixotricha paradoxa (“paradoxically mixed-up hairs”), as seen in the termite community, may help to explain the fractal, nested-network nature of life. A termite nest functions as a superorganism: each nest is an individual” made up of thousands of termites with specialized, integrated roles. Within an “individual” termite are wall-to-wall microorganisms numbering up to 1012 (a trillion) bacteria and 107 (10 million) protists. A termite’s hindgut microbial community (an anoxic habitat for successors of ancient microbes) helps digest the wood consumed by the chewing machine.
Within that hindgut microbial community lives a beautiful tiny protoctist called Mixotricha. It is actually a consortium of populations: one nucleated cell, two kinds of spirochete bacteria, a rod bacterium on the surface and internal (endosymbiotic) bacteria. Mixotricha is in the process of emerging a new “individual.”
University of Montana--Missoula. Environmental Studies Program
© 1997 Stiftung Drittes Millennium
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Liebes, Sid; Mittelstadt, Laurie; Waugh, Barbara; and Brynes, Lois, "Panel 42: What Is An Individual?" (1997). A Walk Through Time - From Stardust To Us. 42.