Chemistry is necessary for all life, says the author of “Silent Winter: Our Chemical World and Chronic Illness,” but we’ve unleashed an unprecedented synthetic chemical cocktail onto our economies, communities and ecosystems.
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This is an excerpt from the new book “Silent Winter: Our Chemical World and Chronic Illness.”
Chemistry is essential to all life on Earth. Indeed, it is a combination of radiation and chemistry that caused life to form on this planet. The chemical environment found within each of our bodies is a complex orchestra that has evolved in the natural world over an unfathomable amount of time.
We developed into increasingly sophisticated creatures through the manipulation of our own internal body chemistry over countless generations. And chemistry continues to facilitate every single life-supporting function — no matter how small — within every living being on Earth. This includes the bacteria, fungi, plants, animals and us.
Virtually nothing can happen inside any life form — including people — without a chemical being formed or released to catalyze the action. Human growth, metabolism, body temperature, organ function, immune system, thoughts, emotions, movement and reproduction are wholly dependent upon our internal body chemistry.
Our genes and DNA lie dormant without the influence of chemistry. Our bodies would be dead without our natural chemistry. Indeed, we run on endless chains of sophisticated chemical reactions.
Biological chemistry has evolved over millions of years, and continues to evolve over time in every living species. New chemical reactions arise to help each species adapt to its environment and resist predators. This is how we ended up with useful things such as photosynthesis, cell division, reproduction, respiration, thoughts, emotions and countless of other life-giving activities we commonly take for granted.
Evolution and adaptation
This life-giving chemistry does not evolve in a vacuum. Plants, animals and microorganisms co-exist and evolve in an intricate dance. For example, the bacteria in our guts evolve their chemistry over time to help safely digest foods that would otherwise be toxic — this guarantees a home and a host for them.
Plants develop new toxic chemicals in order to be less desirable to those who want to eat them. They also create useful chemicals that encourage other species to pollinate them. Species evolve in their ever-changing environment to adapt and thrive. It is a beautiful and intricate web of life created by nature.
Each species can alter itself within a generation — meaning that you and I can develop new chemistries to adapt to our environment. We may move from a warm climate to a cold one and find it takes some years to physically adapt to winter — but it ultimately can be done.
We may be resistant to chicken pox in adulthood after being ill with the disease during childhood. These types of adaptations take place within our lifetime and are dictated by epigenetics, or processes that do not require a change of the genetic code. We already have the mechanisms within our existing set of genes to make these types of physical changes occur.
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However, there are many evolutionary processes that take generations to develop because they do require our genetic code to change.