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It's time for a bioethical gut-check.

When you face a dividing issue, your immediate personal reactions might include "yikes" or "yay", or you might respond along more sociopolitically accepted lines such as "that is (not) right". Do you get those gut feelings in everyday settings? I know I do, I believe we all do in unique patterns, yet the question rather lies in the follow up: what do you do about them? 


There is a common phrase called "making a gut check", which according to The Free Dictionary implies: "a moment in which one stops to seriously evaluate something or one's current state" [1].


The gut response, a cop's sixth sense or overlapping automated neural networks is not only acknowledged in an everyday setting but in law-terms provides a crucial factor to consider when creating an ethical framework as well. 


Our living human microbiome, our gut responds to changes all the time, too and strives to maintain a healthy equilibrium, "seriously evaluating" what the adequate reply to disturbances should be. The gut microbiota has many implications on our health and well-being, but it also acts as a regulatory immune system in terms of neuronal signalling and gastrointestinal hormone release. The microbiome is excellent at cooperating with its host. It even maintains a non-inflammatory environment to maintain tissue integrity, something called homeostatic immunity [2].


To replicate the intelligent nature of our microbial flora, let's do a "gut-check" in the real world together by exploring why we should go more in-depth on both a biological and ethical level into this naturally given automated mechanism!



INTERPERSONAL BORDERS 


There is a more considerable ambivalence towards science than ever; people accept or reject a particular finding or technological invention based on whether it coincides with the individual's pre-existing ideas. These ideas could be identified as social markers, such as differences in cultures, world views and personalities, to mention a few. As a result, you'll get a unique individual mixture of these internal characteristics. Our initial microbiota is acquired at birth and continues to develop in the host, a process which is regulated by a combination of host genetics and environmental factors. Similarly, our gut feeling, the evaluation of an argument, to some extent, is determined by our inherited or acquired traits, markers.


We, as observers often neglect these pre-existing ideas and social markers when approaching research works, yet the previously discussed phenomenon is applicable in regards to observing through a scientist's lens. The impression of an inventor working in an isolated social vacuum is no longer legitimate; entering the lab does not equal, leaving behind one's attributes [3]. We can acknowledge that our sociocultural-individual blueprints are uniquely different, so is it possible to find a common moral ground or a commonly applicable strategy when considering the ethical implications of a biotechnological project?



The down-side of much-praised individuality is that bonafide experts are looked down upon, and liability is deemed as elitist. In the post-truth era, objective facts are esteemed far less than emotional responses.

Just note that in every day or more formal settings, the phrase "I feel like" is more widely used than ever. George Orwell stated the effect of linguistic changes in a simple, yet logical manner: "if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought" [4]. The danger lies in the notion that when we hear this particular phrase, due to the societal pressure, our brain automatically stops responding with a logical follow up because we are not able to go against one's highly subjective feelings.


But is your personal "gut feeling" enough to justify your position on gene-editing / modern-age robots/bioterrorism per se? Or does this choice of linguistics act as a shield behind unclear ideas, blocking the passage to further discussion? 



HIGHER CONTROL AND FLEXIBILITY


As Robert Heller put it: "never ignore a gut feeling, but never believe that it's enough". An equilibrium between data and gut-feeling, verification and trust is paramount. You should find a clear distinction between reacting and responding.


To react is automatic, instant and uncontrollable; to respond, on the other hand, is well-thought-out, collected and composed.

Think about it this way; you find yourself in a heated debate, and the opposing party declares something that appals you. Your instinct might be to lash back immediately, but to live up to your morals, the "ego" mediates between your impulses and inhibitions, producing a well-mannered and structurally applicable response. The Freudian psychology of personality theory (tripartite: Id=Instincts, Ego=Reality and Superego=Morality) can be implemented in ethical decision-making. 


Neuronal pathways are proposed to mediate communication across the so-called microbiota-gut-brain axis. The GI tract can signal to the brain through endocrine and immune pathways or by hijacking vagus nerve signalling. There are distinct neuronal networks involved in vagal gut-brain signalling, thus modulating behaviour [5]. You see, the information is processed on a physically and methodically higher level. The sensory functions are translated into codable, then utilizable actions which the central nervous system produces. The vagus is hardwired to prevent and conduct signals to moderate behaviour. Likewise, you can evaluate an argument by the contrast between beneficence and maleficence.


This is when the previously mentioned "Superego" (which implies: above your ego) comes into play: before reacting, assess the pros and cons, evaluate the argument from both a technical and moral point of view, which in turn, produces a change in behaviour. 


We acknowledge that there is a noted inter-individual difference, but an adult microbiome still maintains a certain degree of flexibility to change. Replicating that feature shows that no matter our determinants, we can alter our opinions. 


IMPACTFUL ACTION


The final product is a realizable action the system carries out. Your internal signalling brings forth a quantifiable decision. A change in the gut-brain axis has more ubiquitous effects; for example, information coming from the vagus nerve can impact hippocampal-dependent memory processes. This is related to an essential component:


going into a conclusion requires stepping outside of the me-zone, and looking at the broader consequences of a decision. By thinking through the lens of compassion, we enlarge the circle: how will my decision impact those around me, society and the environment overall? 


These guidelines deducted from the intelligent, and still not fully understood signalling pathways, shed light on the fact that ethical decision making requires a multi-step process. 


Bioethics is a hot-topic, the very fact that the inventions have an impact on a human being mean you must implement ethical standards. That is why our mission is to support and endorse synthetic biotechnological research while providing an ethical framework, infusing the benefit of humankind with the possibilities this new era contains. We are focused on gathering society's inputs to keep up with the pace scientific innovations dictate. We also focus on giving you information from scientifically acknowledged sources to be up-to-date with the latest inventions, while introducing ethical perspectives, so that you might be even more intellectually flexible to draw new conclusions and contribute to a hopeful tomorrow. We value your bits of wisdom, so feel free to share your thoughts; we are more than thrilled to hear your viewpoints!



Sources:

[1 ]Free Dictionary https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/gut+check

[2]Yasmine Belkaid, Oliver J. Harrison - Homeostatic immunity and the microbiota: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5604871/

[3] John A. Bryant, Linda Baggott la Velle - Introduction to Bioethics. https://bit.ly/34OnS0H

[4]Molly Worthen - Stop saying 'I feel like' - New York Times https://nyti.ms/2VI2lTg

[5]Christine Fulling, Timothy G. Dinan, and John F. Cryan - Gut Microbe to Brain Signaling: What Happens in Vagus https://bit.ly/2Y6XEF7



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