Studies in the Osteopathic Sciences
Basic Principles: Volume 1
Louisa Burns, M.S., D.O., D.Sc.O.

            Among the higher plants and animals there are many apparent exceptions to this rule, but when it is considered in connection with unicellular organisms it is almost self-evident.
The Paramoecium, for Example.

            The paramoecium, for example, lives and thrives best in water containing certain salts, a certain proportion of organic matter, a proper amount of light and heat, and some other smaller living organisms for its food.  If no other living organisms are present, the paramecium can use certain nitrogenous compounds as food.  After living upon these substances for a few generations, a culture of paramecium may be able to thrive fairly well in a culture medium from which all other living things have been excluded.  Such unusual conditions are endured with difficulty, however, and return to the normal food conditions is hailed with every manifestation of increasing vitality by the survivors.  If the life of the paramecium were improved by the use of the non-living foods, those among them which should persist in ingesting bacteria, diatoms, and other tid-bits dear to the paramoecium’s taste would soon lose out in the struggle for existence, leaving the paramoecium universe in the hands of those less blood-thirsty of their brothers who imbibe only non-living foods.  It is needless to say that this does not agree with the facts in the case, as observed in the lives of these interesting little omnivorous animals.

            The series of chemical changes which make up the life history of the paramecium has become fixed by ages of inheritance in a certain definite routine.  If the substances which have served as its food during its past history are not present, the affinities of the molecules of its living protoplasm may, perhaps, be satisfied by other substances which are found in the new environment, but the subsequent reactions, the evolution of energy and the results of katabolism must  of necessity vary from those characteristics of the paramecium in the environment to which the paramecium race has become accustomed.

            This is true of all simple organisms, and is also true of the cells of multicellular organisms.  Because they are adapted to certain conditions of environment, they find their best development therein.  They may be placed under different conditions, if the change be slowly brought about, and they may become adapted to this environment.


Alga, for Example.

            Perhaps the most conspicuous example of this condition is found in the behavior of certain of the fresh-water algae.  These may be transformed into salt water forms by the gradual addition of sea-salt to their culture medium.  If the change is made sufficiently slowly, the algae become transformed into true sea-water forms.  The history of such a series of changes is written upon the shores of the Utah lakes.

            The ancient Lake Bonneville was a fresh-water lake, and it was inhabited by fresh-water organisms.  During the successive stages of evaporation which have intervened between that time and this, the fresh water forms have given place to those found in salt water.  The remains of the plants and animals living in fresh water, in water slightly salt, in water more and more salt, are found upon the terraces  which represent the shores of the lake at various stages of evaporation.  There are limits to the possibilities of adaptation, however, and these lakes are now almost lifeless.  This same history is written upon the shores of many of the lakes through Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, California, and other place where there has been a slow and progressive change in the quality of the water in large basins.  The history is occasionally reversed through a few chapters, when unusual periods of floods have diluted the salt water over the time of several generations of the smaller organisms.



            In the process of adaptation to the changing conditions, many individuals die, leaving the field to those who are able to make adequate reply to changing conditions.  It is impossible to determine, at present, the nature of the difference between those animals and plants of any given species which are able to react to a changed environment and those which are not able to survive the change.  It is probably true that the difference is represented by some difference in the chemical structure of the protoplasmic molecule, but there is no present evidence of the nature of this chemical change, nor of the manner in which these structures of apparently identical composition and inheritance differ from one another so much that one is able to exist under a new environment, while others perish in the attempt.  In the very act of living under the new conditions, the survivors undergo certain changes in their metabolism which are represented in changes in their external forms, or in the quality of their reply to environal changes, or in their waste products, or in some other factors of their life history.


Essential Character of Life.

            The essential characteristic of life is the power to make such reply to changes in the environment as must preserve the individual and the race.  So long as the environment of the cell is that to which it has been adapted through its racial history, the reply will be for the ultimate good of the race.  So long as the problems propounded to the cell do not vary in too great a degree from those propounded to its ancestors, its reply will be such as adapts to the changes which offer the problems.  Every cell makes most rational and logical reply to those problems offered by the changes in environment which have been affecting its race for generations.  Every unaccustomed change offers a new problem whose logical solution initiates a structural change subversive of the whole trend of its past development.  Yet the possibility of making this change in its metabolism is the result of its life through all the past.

            In this respect, the change is destructive of the species as such, though it is for the perpetuation of life in another form.  To the normal development of fresh water algae, the addition of sea-water is fatal.  There is no question of improvement in this matter.  Under other conditions, there is probably a development of a greater complexity of structure in answer to the increased demands made upon an organism by a varying environment.


The Queen Bee, for Example.

            The same principle is observed in many instances.  In the queen bee, nothing but difference in food and care can be found to account for the development of the queen from the ranks of the workers.  The environment of the queen developes the queen; the environment of the worker developes the worker.  But the environment of the worker ruins the bee for a queen, and the environment of the queen ruins the bee for a worker.


The Human Body is Adapted to Human Environment.

            The human body is the result of untold generations of progressive development.  Its structure and the function of its parts have been subject to modification by environal changes as long as there has been any such thing as a human body.  Every change in food supply, in climate or in the demands made upon the energy output of the body has initiated a reply which was either a logical reply and therefore facilitated adaptation, or was illogical, and therefore facilitated the elimination of those individuals who were unfit for the new conditions.  In this manner the human body has become that which we now inhabit.  It is fitted for a certain environment, to which it has been accustomed through all its past.  This is its normal environment.


Human Organs Are Adapted to One Another.

            This body is made up of millions of individual cells, each with its own life history, its own inheritance and its own quality of development.  Each lives its own life, yet not one lives its life alone.  Not one cell of the body is absolutely independent of any other cell in the body.  Under normal conditions it would be impossible to recognize a relationship between every cell and every other, but since the disease of any cell group may affect adversely the metabolism of every other cell group, there is beyond question a relation between them.  Through the long generations of successive adaptations to changing environment, all cells and all cell groups have become adapted to the neighborhood of one another and of the fluids resulting from the metabolism of the various structures of the body as we now see it.


The Eyes, for Example.

            For example, the eyes are adapted not only to the external conditions of light and heat and so on, found where eyes are likely to be needed, but they are fitted also to live upon the quality of blood which is formed by the hematopoietic organs of such bodies as ours.  They are adapted to the effects of such nerve impulses as are likely to reach them from such nervous systems as ours, and to the needs of our bodies for eyes, as interpreted into the language of food or starvation, or the language of development, of the death of the unfit, of the persistence in inheritance of those whose eyes are a source of strength.  The tension of the eye balls and their related structures is adapted to the pressure of the blood in the vessels, to the pressure of the capsule of Tenon from the back and of the eye lids form the front.


Adaptation Not Complete.

            Every organ of the body is either already adapted to the conditions characteristic of the normal body, or it is in the process of becoming so adapted.  If they are now perfectly adjusted to the environment made for them by the other structures of the body and the fluids formed by the various metabolic activities of the organs of the normal body, then the addition of foreign material to that environment must be harmful in just the degree in which the new environment differs from the old.  If adaptation is perfect or practically so, the cell is already provided with its normal environment.  It is evident, then, that nothing can be added to this environment which can benefit the cell.

            If the adaptation of the cell to its environment is not perfect, because of the occurrence of changes in the environment, then a return to the original environment may be of benefit.  In this case, the original environment is the one normal to that cell.  If the cell is in process of adaptation to an absolute and inevitable change, the addition of other new factors could only still further complicate the problem offered to the metabolic capacities of the cell.

            The determination of the normal environment of a complex organism is a matter of great difficulty.  There is no doubt that not by any means all of the human race, or of the higher animals and plants are placed in absolutely their best environment.  Inasmuch as physical conditions on the earth are constantly changing, and as complex organisms are, by virtue of their complexity, somewhat slow in their structural changes in reply to these changes, very few of the species now with us have become absolutely adapted to present conditions.  In order to facilitate this adaptation, it would be very illogical to add another factor to the complex changes which already are offering to trying a test to the powers of the organism.

            Any endeavor to assist the cell in its efforts at self-adjustment to a new environment can only result in an offer of a still different environment.  It is evident that if abnormal factors are present in the environment of a cell, the structural and functional integrity of the cell may be preserved, or perhaps even restored, by the removal of the abnormal factors.


The Normal Environment.

            The normal environment of the cells of the body necessitates the normal condition of all the tissues of the body.  The normal relation of the cells to one another must be preserved.  The normal environment of any cell is that which renders it capable of performing its function in the body in the best possible manner.  The normal environment of the human body is that which makes inevitable the highest possible physical and mental development, which necessitates the performance of the best possible work in the world, which secures the maintenance of life in its finest expression through the longest term of years.

            Note A.—The history of the chiefs of the Maoris is somewhat similar to that of the queen bee in this respect.  The environment of the chief developes the chief, but ruins the lad for a tribesman.  It is probably true, however, that the tribesmen were not ordinarily supplied with absolutely the best environment for their development as tribesmen.  For this account of the Maori chiefs I am indebted to Miss Wilhelmina Sheriff Bain of New Zealand:

            “According to native accounts, the tribal chiefs of New Zealand, and of Samoa and other South Sea Islands, were especially developed and maintained in physical perfection by frequent recourse to mud or steam baths, and by the kneading, massage, and other ministrations of their attendants.

            “Towering above the common folk, with massive shoulders, proudly poised heads, and flashing eyes, these chiefs comported themselves as princes,--not always choosing to conceal their disdain for the puny proportions of some among their early white visitors who sought to intermeddle with their affairs.”