Posted by: Glow-worm PJ30 JUN 2011
Super-organisms consist of many organisms, with a highly specialised division of labour, where individuals cannot survive independently for any extended period. They exhibit reproductive division of labour and co-operative care of the young.
Although super-organisms are commonly insects, there is one species of mammal that exists as a super-organism, the naked mole rat of East Africa, whose colonies are organised in a similar fashion to those of ants or bees, in that there is one breeding queen, three or four males, and the rest of the colony, of up to 300 individuals, is made up of worker females, responsible for maintaining the system of burrows, searching for food, and tending the young.
Unusually for mammals, naked mole rats cannot maintain their body temperature and are essentially cold-blooded, depending on the constant temperature of the burrows to survive. Existing as a super-organism enables these animals to have a life span of almost 30 years, an age unprecedented in small rodents.
The term super-organism has also been extended, by some scientists, to the human body. They argue that most of the cells in the human body are not even human and this needs taking into account in order fully to understand human disease processes and their treatment.
More than 500 species of bacteria exist in our bodies, totalling some 100 trillion cells, compared with a mere several trillion human cells. These bacteria are, on the whole, commensal but many species are beneficial, particularly those in the gut, performing vital functions, including breaking down polysaccharides.
It is known that bacteria can alter gut pH levels and it has been suggested they could also play a role in the immune response. They may also have some influence upon the development of insulin resistance, heart disease, some cancers and even neurological disease.