Saturday, December 19, 2020

The Secret of Holobionts


"Braiding Sweetgrass" is a wonderful book, the kind that's best digested a few pages at a time. (h/t Erik Assadourian). In it, the author, Robin Wall Kimmerer, happily moves back and forth from the uses of her Native American ancestors and her knowledge as biologist. She never uses the concept of "holobiont," but the book teems of holobionts on almost every page.
I am about halfway through it, and the book remains full of surprises. Here is what I read this morning, while drinking my coffee. It is about how the ancient Native Americans had found a way to optimize their plots of land by planting together three different seeds: corn, beans, and squash, poetically referred to as the "Three Sisters." Kimmerer goes on describing the details of exquisitely intricate ways in which these three species collaborate with each other, maximizing the supplying of nutrients to all three. She says.
"It’s tempting to imagine that these three are deliberate in working together, and perhaps they are. But the beauty of the partnership is that each plant does what it does in order to increase its own growth. But as it happens, when the individuals flourish, so does the whole. In reciprocity, we fill our spirits as well as our bellies."
And that's the true secret of holobionts.

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Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)