The essay is about an idea called the “Loomis Lichen Cancer Hypothesis” which talks about the relationship between a kind of multipartner(multicellular, multispecies) organism called lichen and humans and how it might affect human health, especially what we call cancer.
Firstly, what is lichen? A lichen is like a super-team or grouping of two or more tiny organisms that help each other out. This includes a fungus and a kind of algae or bacteria. Algae are like plants that live in water-based environments and bacteria are tiny, single-celled organisms. Remember, the human body is about 60% water. The lichen team is very diverse, with potentially up to 30,000 different kinds!
One kind of algae that’s important in human lichens is called Prototheca. These algae are interesting because they lack chlorophyll, which most plants and algae use to make food through photosynthesis. Instead, Prototheca feed off the organic material around them, which lets them live in lots of different environments, throughout the human body.
Now, this is where it gets a bit more complex. Some Prototheca species can cause diseases in people, especially those with weaker immune systems. They can cause skin problems or more serious diseases affecting different organs in the body. This makes them an important area to research, especially since they’ve developed resistance to some medicines used to treat infections.
Prototheca algae have some harmful compounds too. Some of these can damage our liver or nerves or cause cell death. But remember, not all algae produce toxins and those that do might not always produce them.
We have lichen living on the human body. We’re talking about real lichen that live on the skin, adapting to the changing environment of the body. These lichens come in different forms, like flat leaf-like ones or more branched, bush-like ones.
Lichens on the body also have a way to reproduce. They produce little parts that can break off and grow into new lichens elsewhere on the body. They can even make special chemicals that help them fight off other bacteria or fungi, and survive the body’s immune responses.
So, while the idea of lichens on our body might seem a bit strange, it’s actually a fascinating area of study. Understanding how these tiny organisms live and interact with us could help us understand more about our health and potentially find new ways to treat diseases.