Since we’ve now blown the box top off of our definition of motherhood for humanity by including women of earth; why not light up the sides and expand our perception in another direction!? We’ve reflected on origin-of-life narratives to drive our expanded view of motherhood for our own Homo sapien species. Now, why not explore evolutionary biology narratives to place our human existence within the larger context of our entire living family and celebrate mothers among all other species on life’s spectrum within earth’s biosphere?

Nurturers of Life- Our Biogenetic Ancestors on the Phylogenetic Tree

It may be easier to resonate with long past, Great-great grandma Mary-Sue, but after all, didn’t we all descend from Archaeabacteria, too? Evolutionary biochemists estimate nearly 2 billion years ago, complex eukaryotic cells (true cells), which make up animals, plants, and fungi split from the smaller, simpler cells called prokaryotes (first cells).

Recall Intel’s Loihi computer chip to explode the new world of AI and neural-networking from my earlier article, A Reflection on Artificial Intelligence? Well recently, researchers discovered in the Arctic Ocean an extraordinary Archaea prokaryote, called Lokiarchaea, who could have played a seminal role in the historic biological evolution of life from prokaryotes to eukaryotes.

Like Intel, positioning Loihi (like Loki) as the precursor to all neuromorphic, neural-networking AI, Lokiarchaea is currently positioned as a key precursor to the eukaryote (true cell), which led the rapid explosion of the diversification of life. Why Loki? Although a single cell with no true nucleus and little cell machinery, Lokiarchaea appeared to have more than 100 genes coding for complex cell functions; such as, forming and deforming cell membranes-critical for eventually merging, splitting, and multiplying cells. As these critical cell processes are key to evolving more complex life, Lokiarchaea maybe one of the last Archaea to precede the first eukaryote cell, again responsible for the rapid explosion of life’s biodiversity and the sprouting of our phylogenic tree. Interestingly, Loki-the root word for Loki Archaea and close to Loihi, Intel, is an Old Norse god, who sometimes assists the gods and other times behaves maliciously toward them…but who creates loops and knots… nets of new life.

Thus, given our new awareness of our evolutionary reality from Lokiarchaea- one of the oldest living fossils etched into the rocky outcrop the at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean to just recently on earth’s scene, Me— running free amidst the waves of California’s sandy Pacific Sea; I am now aware that we share a Loki- an ancient biogenetic connection! And in truth, if we, as humans, consciously decide to accept this reality and if we reflect long enough on our genetic roots; we come to realize that we (humans) have always been linked throughout our biological past to the very first Archaea cell (possibly LUKA-like) near the roots; as well, to all the diatoms and turtles and birds and reptiles and fish and spiders and mollusks and ants and club fungi and liverworts and moss shoots. We are part of life’s phylogenic tree from the very beginning, and will be-regardless of our future history in these human+machine times… to the very end. Humans simply occupy one of the latest, most evolved branches on one of the longest, complex mammalian stems. But just as we begin to get too big of a head (human+machine brain), as far as diversity of branches and life on the planet go, bacteria already beat us in that race, long ago.

Sure, scientists are still making new discoveries all the time— finding new fossils (even alive, like Loki) to further flush out our (forever incomplete) visualization of life’s inter-connected geologic history. So, who knows how our phylogenetic narrative in the future goes? Regardless, we’ve learned enough to know that our current biology is profoundly evolutionarily dependent on the ancestral bacteria, fungi, plants, and animals who came before us. In fact, DNA replication has proven such a consistent, reliable biological process and the original coding for life so elegant and miraculously designed that geneticists have even recently discovered we still share 80% of our genetic code with the Sea squirt– a simple Chordate (spiny animal). As well, the comparison of Clint’s genetic blueprints between the human genome and the chimpanzees- our closest living biogenetic relative, shows that we share 96% of our same DNA. Extraordinary, aye!

So, as evolutionarily superior to other simple animals-plants-fungi-bacteria we think we are, and even if we believe we’ve come so far over 3.5 billion years to differentiate us from our bacterial brethren and others in the biosphere… in reality, we have much more in common with all of life on earth than it may appear. The Native American vision of humanity as part of the web of life is not merely a metaphor; but a biophysical, biogenetic reality. Other animals, plants, and fungi really are our sisters, brothers, cousins, fathers,… and mothers. And, maybe there is something there-there for us to learn…if not, simply humility.

And, if paleontology and fossil findings don’t impress upon us, the reality of our biological evolutionary connection with the rest of life, perhaps Ernst Haeckel’s Biogenetic law that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” can serve as another brilliant reminder of how life- in proof and truth, really evolved upon itself. According to Haeckel’s law, when a human being is conceived and goes through the process of development from fetus to newborn child (the process of ontogeny), the fetus grows through stages that reflect the evolution of life (phylogeny), physically taking on features of a fish, a salamander, a reptile, a chick, then a human being. Today, all doubting Thomas’ can literally see visually on sequences of MRI scans, our bio-genetic history.

I also just recently learned that we even exchange DNA directly and daily among those with whom we spend a lot of time and/or become intimate, such that we actually do begin to mirror different genetic expressions of one another. (inspired by Dr. Zach Bush). So, the evolution of ourselves is not just hidden in our per-birth genetic and geologic past, but is also a part of our day-day choices and relationships. We are living, breathing, active participants in our evolution. As well, we impact the evolution of all those around us and our environment, every day.

Nurturers of Life- Our Intimate and Integral Connection to Life

Further and equally fascinating, we not only replicate our living ancestry while in our mother’s womb during pregnancy, but we also inadvertently incorporate our living ancestry into our human bodies. We are not as impervious to our physical environment or as isolated from other organisms in our living environment, as we thought. We absorb bacteria, fungus, and other microscopic organisms by respiring through our skin, breathing through our lungs, and digesting food through our mouth and GI tract.

In fact, human biologists today are describing the human body and teaching human anatomy as an integrated system— one whole human biome that functions much like a rainforest, also with many other species living within it’s complex, canopied body and contributing to the health of the whole. In parallel, we see integrative health and medicine units, departments, and entirely new facilities pop up even within large hospital conglomerates. Cedars Sinai’s new Integrative Health Clinic is a brilliant case in point. Further, the Human Microbiome Project (2008-2017), aiming to understand the role of microbes in our health and disease recently revealed that our human bodies are made up of 10 trillion human cells, but also 100 trillion bacteria cells… and many more fungal cells. So, despite the epidemic of depression we seem to be seeing more and more among teens in the US and other countries; we are really not alone in this world. And we really never have been alone… in our biological beings. The belief that the Universe lives inside of us— is also not just a motif, but a biophysical reality.

Endocrinologists and naturopathic environmental medicine doctors have known that a healthy digestive system is a stomach garden, rich with bacterial flora. Why? Those 100 trillion bacteria cells in our GI tract are largely responsible for many of the metabolic processes from converting food to fuel, building proteins-lipids-nucleic acids, to eliminating nitrogenous waste to all the 1000’s of enzyme-catalyzed processes taking place in our bodies that break down food and build our muscles up, keep our systems healthy, maintain and sustain us.

And on that metabolic note, the closer we look and the more intimate we become with our own biology, we realize that our body-our actions-our intuitive mind (gut brain) are all more closely tied to the health of our biogenetic family of life, living in us, than we ever would have imagined. We now know that the GI tract (digestive system, including our stomachs) contains an arsenal of 100 million neurons, outnumbering the neuron supply of the spinal chord and the rest of the nervous systems outside the brain.  And if many of those enzyme processes are driven by foreign bacteria; they not only reflect the priority of the body on metabolism-action and energy exchange, but they also emphasize the critical dependence we have on our gut bacteria. We need to treat them well and allow them to flourish and replenish. We need to encourage our body systems to promote a probiotic world; instead of an antibiotic world. Go Kombucha!

Nurturers of Life- Our Energetic Connection to Life

In reality, not only do some bacteria and fungi live inside us and not only do we share our DNA with our biogenetic ancestors on the phylogenetic tree of life; but we are inseparably, energetically tied to the first Rhizaria and sponge to the last lamp shell, millipede, and moss through our energy exchange— our life force. Albert Einstein said it first, “Everything is energy.” We can either perceive of a molecule as a particle, a wave… or a wavicle (both a particle and a wave)- a specific energetic frequency of being. And all living beings participate in this energy cycle of life through our give-and take of potential and kinetic energy in our food web dealings, which when charted out visually reminds us that when we break our food down to its elemental parts, we are really made up of every living organism on the planet. When the fur seals and the blue whales feast on the billions of krill, they are ingesting, digesting, and using the life force of the krill to think, grow, and become the tons and tons of whale flesh that sharks then eat, when they herd and hunt their blue whale prey… and that’s a simple example of one small food chain link in a 3D matrix of natural diet possibilities.

It is the same idea as Thich Nhat Hanh’s Clouds in Each Paper:

If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow: and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. …If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. …And if we continue to look we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist. Thich Nhat Hanh

This energy exchange is possible because similar ADP-ATP chemiosmosis happens at the cellular core of most all living beings. As well, the same elemental earth minerals nourish our common blood; the same prehistoric water, cycles through our common veins; and the same oxygen enters our common lungs from our common air – albeit today contaminated by any number of artificial, industrial, machine processes. We even emit the same range of frequencies in our bodies as our animal and plant ancestors, beating by the same heart beat as earth’s frequencies when the planet evolved. What do we do not that earth’s natural frequencies are speeding up?

This is all to again say that we have an intimate, energetic, and irreplaceable connection to other living beings in the biosphere… and without this connection we would not be here. I hope this profound thought gives solace to any of you out there in the readership sphere that somehow has misinformed yourself that you are alone. Indeed, you are linked to every other living creature on earth every time you breathe on the only planet we have known as our home… Earth.

Nurturers of Life- Our Inter-dependent Connection to Life

How are we dependent on living beings in the biosphere?

First of all, we have our ancient cyanobacteria ancestors to thank for photosynthesizing first— for taking the sun’s light + 6CO2+6H2O and producing food — C6H12O6 (glucose) for life to eat + air, O2 (oxygen) for life to breathe, to circulate, and to think. Cyanobacteria were the first species to have a planetary scale impact on the environment that affected the future of living beings. No longer did we need to relay directly on the stuff of life from Stanley Miller’s primordial soup or absorb into each other (Archaea+bacteria) to metabolize, move, and grow; but we could absorb energy from our environment now by actively producing stored energy, and feeding one another through the gift of ourselves. Herein lies the crux of our human dependence on other living species in the biosphere. We humans can’t produce our own food source from the minerals and waters of the world and the energy from the sun through our own biology. Only photosynthetic bacteria, algae, mosses, simple and complex plants, trees, and other green leafy beings can do. We have to plant, grow, harvest, and digest fruits, vegetables, grains, and seeds to access the energy of the sun and power our day with ADP. The rest of us- insects, birds, amphibians, fish, mammals, and humans either resort to harvesting our green foliage, grain, or seed friends; or we hunt wildlife from the ocean floor to the grasslands where the lions roar. How else would we indirectly access the energy of the sun, if not delivered first through green beings and whirled peas or second through our ancestors in the animal kingdom? How else would we participate in the cycle of energy and life if not through the generous sacrifice of one living being’s life for another?

How are living beings in the biosphere dependent on us as humans?

Doesn’t our perspective on what it means to be an earth steward take on more meaning and gravitas when we realize that we are biologically dependent on food-making, oxygen-producing plants and similarly dependent on the animals who ingest them to also feed us? Doesn’t it now seem ludicrous to even think that we could live autonomously from the rest of life? We are biologically-hardwired to all living beings, who call earth, our home. And that has to be our new Koan, if we really insist that Homo sapiens shall continue in the future to exist. We can produce and engineer all things plastic and veneer; but at the end of the day; we can’t synthetically design our own food- the sustenance of life to play.

On that note, we can’t continue to live unconsciously—continuing to populate every bioregion of the world (our numbers in the past century have grown from 1.2 billion to 7.6 billion-May 2018), increasing carbon and other pollutants in the atmosphere, developing urban mega-cities 10’s millions of humans strong, and sprawling sub-urban developments along…to such an extent that has stripped many of their habitat and left 52% of the world’s mammalian wildlife, dead in the past century. We have the most to lose from these unconscious moves. Once the web of life will unravel; we have no idea what other wars to survive we will have to battle. We as humans have been gifted with a conscious mind to discern and reason and plan our next moves. We have always been innovative, explored new ideas, invented new things, solved new problems, and for the most part, grew our hunting-gathering tribes, then our agricultural communities, well. But during the Industrial Revolution (late 1800’s)- the Age of the Machine, something changed. Our modern convenience in life trumped the conservation of life. Nature and our living ancestors became part of our master design to conquer the planet and to expand our influence to every corner of the earth. We were no longer a small world on a big planet; where nature could replenish and repair and remain resilient. We were now a big world on a small planet. (Johan Rockstrom, Stockholm Institute)

It doesn’t even seem possible that one species who shows up the last two seconds before midnight on life’s 24-hour evolutionary clock… one species, who owes our genetic history to rest of life before us, could cause planetary scale changes, which not only fail to support the viable conditions on earth for our human family, but fail to support future generations of most other living species on the planet, as well. As Prince Charles famously claimed in Harmony, “We have now reached a point in our evolutionary life where the earth alarm bells are ringing and the bell tolls for us.” But, our plight is not that of nature; it is of our perception of our place in nature and our incorrect dismissal of our true interdependence among other living beings, as well, our perhaps misinterpreted notion of what it means to be a good earth steward.

So, what are we to do? Many earth mothers are waking up and turning to the natural world to watch the behavior, mimic the well-adapted designs, and learn the evolutionary lifestyles of our fellow plant and animal friends. Our living biogenetic ancestors have so much to teach us now about how to live in harmony, balance, and peace. Our indigenous ancestors who thrived before the Age of the Machine observed and orally shared across previous generations, the lessons of nature they saw and knew to be true. And the good news is we can learn from the natural world too— how to make amends and how to carry on sustaining earth’s resources upon which we depend, creating zero waste, and naturally keeping our populations in check… while valuing every life, every day.

This natural intelligence we can learn from our animal friends, I believe will be central to our survival, so as a gift to our human tribe I have just written an almanac with daily inspirations from the animal kingdom on how to thrive, riding life’s changing tide. (Naturally Intelligent by Design is a book for the whole family to read, learn, reflect, and grow together in a Naturally Intelligent way— 5 minutes each day. Take a look and pre-order my book. We will publish it with Balboa Press, early Autumn, 2018.)

“Two billion years ago, cyanobacteria oxygenated the atmosphere and powerfully disrupted life on Earth; but they didn’t know it. We’re the first species that’s become a planet-scale influence and is aware of that reality. That’s what distinguishes us.” David Attenborough


  • Catherine Cunningham, PhD

    Mission Possible: Awaken Natural Intelligence in Our World

    Natural Intelligence

    Dr. Catherine Cunningham, PhD is an ecologist, anthropologist, writer, filmmaker, and media host producing films, interactive experiences, and online multimedia for international clients who are focused on positive economic, social, and environmental win-win-win solutions to global conservation and climate change.

    Catherine has travelled, written, photographed, and filmed in 70 countries, producing creative films and music videos in support the UN Global Goals and the human+nature planetary health narrative. Visit Natural to see where her work has premiered internationally. Over 20 years, she has interviewed hundreds of global thought leaders to promote sustainable solutions to climate change and conservation in creative ways. Catherine has written numerous articles on climate change, nature, and regeneration. She’s currently writing two books: “Naturally Intelligent by Design” — a fine art science and culture book for families and “Natural Intelligence”— a guidebook for well-navigating a post COVID-19 world by following nature’s principles. Partnering with Eurovision News and Events, Catherine is also an independent media host— producing content on nature, climate, and regeneration; syndicated globally by EuroVision’s News Direct. She is a regular contributor to Thrive Global and Medium. She currently produces communications for the Prince Albert II Foundation and participates in programming @ the World Economic Forum on Climate Change, Nature, and Biodiversity. As an university educator, Catherine taught undergraduate and masters courses in corporate sustainability communications at Arizona State University; global sustainability at Chapman University; biology, ecology, botany, and environmental science at Denver State College and Front Range College. In 2016, she designed one of the first university courses on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (also online), contributing to youth action on the UN Global Goals. She also created a post-graduate program with UNESCO on the MAB (Man the Biosphere) reserves. Catherine earned her PhD in Ecosystem Science at ETHZ in Switzerland, studying climate impacts on mountain ecosystems. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Cultural Anthropology and International Peace Studies from the University of Notre Dame and a Masters degree from Utah State in Ecology. Catherine speaks fluent English and conversational Italian. She loves creative collaboration, media production, mountaineering, outdoor sports, yoga, wellness, and travel.