The Role of Bacteria in Evolution

In the footsteps of Koch, Fleming and Darwin.

The work of these three revolutionary scientists has influenced our world dramatically in the last 200 years. This is particularly true for medical practice. Koch contributed to our knowledge of bacteriology – and therefore of the causes of illness. Fleming’s discovery of the healing powers of penicillin saved the lives of millions of people and animals and this earned him a Nobel Prize. Darwin’s work delivered a well-researched explanation for the origins of life in his theory of evolution. Contemplating these giants of science, it is hard to conceive that their contribution could also have significant oversights, even though this is recognised as being something that is true of all great discoveries.

According to Joshua Lederberg [1], Darwin must have been aware of the scientific discoveries made by Koch and Pasteur regarding microbiology and infectious diseases, but makes no reference to the connection between infections and what he describes as ‘the driving force in natural selection.’ With today’s knowledge, we can say that there is much more to it than Darwin may have suspected.

In the 1930s geneticists began to express grave doubts about the assumption that the only driving force behind Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was natural selection. They understood that mutations were mostly disadvantageous and often fatal for individuals of a species and this was not consistent with the idea of successful adaptation and survival of the fittest.

Evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900-1975) departed from that sceptical view. He studied genetics using fruit flies as subjects. He discovered that mutations in their chromosomes were sometimes fatal, but mostly they had little traceable effect. The mutations accumulated within a certain population, causing them to differ from other populations to such an extent that over time individuals from different populations did not recognise the others as being from the same species. His major contribution to science was that he could prove that there were distinct genetic variations within one species.

biology medallionDobzhansky was the first to link mutation, environmental factors and evolution. His statement that ‘nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution’ [2] is enshrined in a monument to his name in the form of a mosaic placed in the floor of the main hall in the Jordan Hall of Science at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, USA.

Biologists currently are of the opinion that the story of evolution began with a primordial soup containing all the ingredients to make various primitive single-cell organisms (prokaryotes, or bacteria). These simple creatures had the inclination to pair and exchange genetic information.

Today we call this activity horizontal or lateral gene transfer. This process was first mooted at the beginning of the last century by the Russian botanist Konstantin Mereschkowski. Fifty years on, Lynn Margulis (1938-2011) substantiated this theory with scientific evidence. She defended the endosymbiotic hypothesis in her 1965 thesis, in which she postulated that eukaryote cells originate from symbiosis between various strains of bacteria. On the basis of her findings, she stated that complex cell organelles were the definitive proof of evolutionary theory. She published her theory about the origins of evolution in 1970 [3]. Margulis remains associated with the quote, “Life did not take over the globe by combat, but by networking”.  

There is a similar, more obvious symbiotic relationship found between prokaryotes (single-cell organisms) and eukaryotes (higher, multicellular forms). This means that it is completely possible that gene transfer can occur between bacteria and higher forms (animals and humans). Symbiogenesis - seen as an important force behind evolution - is exactly what happens as a result of ‘infection’. Ignoring any negative value judgement, you could say that an infection is just another way an organism attempts to engage in genetic exchange. It is, in effect, making evolution possible.

This aspect of behaviour of organisms, which links them to evolution has not yet reached mainstream thinking in medicine. In his time, Koch had no means of placing this pathogen behaviour in the context of evolutionary processes, so it is no surprise that he regarded pathogenic bacteria exclusively as agents of disease. Like Koch, Darwin himself predated the discovery of the principle of lateral gene transfer – so he could not have made the link with evolution. Not least because there is little fossil evidence for it.

Up until now DNA has been generally regarded as an intrinsically stable feature of living organisms. Gene ‘mutations’ are regarded as undesirable, random replication defects which should be repaired and infection is still largely seen as a negative biological phenomenon. A very select group of people find themselves in the company of scientists like Haldane [4], and see infection for better and for worse as an essential factor in the broader process of evolution.

Let’s look at how this works. Bacteria have as a typical characteristic that they can multiply very quickly and small genetic defects can easily occur during DNA duplication. If these defects are not repaired, then we can safely call them ‘spontaneous mutations’ as described by Darwin. However, in the light of what we know now as lateral gene transfer, we can say that most mutations in plants, animals and humans are probably triggered by contact with >micro-organisms. This novel perspective has had very little recognition in the scientific world to date.

Of all the organisms that come about through mutation, only the very few viable ‘mutants’ survive – a phenomenon described by Darwin as natural selection. These robust few have new characteristics which ensure that they are better able to adapt to their environment and help them remain healthier for longer. Even more importantly, their descendants are better adapted to the surroundings than previous generations. This selection process continues to generate drop-outs, just as it did in Dobzhansky’s fruit fly populations.

More than 99% of all species that have ever lived (some biologists estimate this number to be even 99.99%) are now extinct and many existing species are on the brink of extinction [5]. Biologists now generally accept that this phenomenon is linked to shortcomings in the immune system. It is interesting to speculate how many of these species may have become extinct because of pandemic infections and how many of the survivors owe their success to an immune system defence that has kept pace with successive invasions of microbes that have threatened that species.

The question arises as to what the future of homo sapiens might be in the light of this link between extinction and the effectiveness of the immune system. This system is remarkably similar in both humans and other vertebrates and it originated about 200 million years ago. It remains to be seen if the resilience of the human immune system keeps pace with the biological challenges that mankind faces in this age and will face in the future. It is precisely this mechanism which lies at the heart of evolution: an increasingly effective immune system that ensures the survival of the species.

Mutation and natural selection have played a central role in the evolutionary process that lies far behind us. Obviously, there is nothing to hinder it playing an equally important role in our time and in the future. It is difficult to see beyond the horizon of our personal lifespan to see our place in this immense process. But what we can see is that ageing, infections and cancer all point to the involvement of the immune system.

The fundamental evolutionary function of “infection” by bacteria has been around since between 3.5 and 4.5 billion years ago and it is illogical to assume that in the approximately 130,000 years that homo sapiens has been walking the earth that this function should have disappeared. This primordial drive to infect that resides in bacteria is still as strong as ever. This clearly has negative effects, like illness and death of individuals and extinction of whole species. This is why we commonly regard infections as completely undesirable, even though – as the saying goes – what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger. If we are not killed by the infection, we recover and in the process, we build up immunity against future invasions which can then be passed on via our genes to new generations. In this way, the interaction between bacteria and the immune system sets a positive step for the evolution of our species.

Let’s focus on the process of infection and recovery more closely. After an infection has passed and we have declared that it has disappeared, it has been found that viral or bacterial DNA remnants can still be seen in blood samples or in other body tissues of former patients. It has even been found that using antibiotics increases the risk of the development of these still active remnants in a patient. Microbiologist Lida Mattman [6] has definitively shown under laboratory conditions, that specific bacteria can undergo a transformation when exposed to antibiotics becoming what is now called pleiomorphic bacteria or L-forms. Click for illustration. According to her, these pleiomorphic micro-organisms are continuously present in the body, causing chronic illness. In practice, they are almost impossible to eliminate using currently available treatments.

Other scientists have confirmed what Mattman discovered. Boman et al found the DNA of Chlamydia pneumoniae in the blood taken from 52 ‘healthy’ donors. Forty-six percent of them showed this DNA in certain white blood cells, the peripheral monocytes [7]. Karimi et al found 14 cases of C. pneumoniae DNA in a group of 196 ‘healthy’ blood donors [8]. Haranga et al found 21 cases of the same bacterial DNA in a group of 237 ‘healthy’ blood donors using a gram- negative blood culture [9]. These are but a few of the large number of examples to be found in scientific literature.

Bacterial infections are likely to be a causal factor behind chronic illnesses and even cancer.

Microbial DNA is often found in blood samples taken from patients with chronic inflammatory disease and those suffering from cancer. In the latter, the DNA is found in the cancer cell itself. The presence of bacterial DNA indicates that the patients have previously been infected, whether or not they were aware of the infection at the time. Even if the infection was mild at the time, the effect of the DNA remnants hiding in the body will not necessarily be as innocuous.

 Infections leave DNA remnants in the body.

They can cause chronic disease at a later point in time and moreover, bacterial DNA can also penetrate ovarian and sperm cells possibly causing a change to genetic characteristics in those cells. These will then be passed on to the new generation. Genetically determined chronic diseases can be passed on in this way from conception onwards [10,11]. This potential route for contracting a chronic disease is barely acknowledged in practice.

G.V. Sherbet published an article in the British Journal of Medical Practitioners in 2009 [12] pointing to acute bacterial infections as being the causal factor behind various chronic non-bacterial inflammations which develop into a form of autoimmune disease [long] after the acute infection has disappeared.

Alzheimer disease has also recently been linked to previously undergone acute infections according to a recently published meta-study published in 2015 in the Journal of Alzheimer Disease [13]. “But it will not be easy to develop a vaccine against Alzheimer because there are apparently many different pathogens involved in the development of the plaques in the brain,” according to Jacobus Jansen, researcher at Maastricht University [14]. We cannot necessarily expect autovaccine therapy to cure Alzheimer’s Disease, but if the experts are right about the causes, then this therapy could prove to play a preventative role in this otherwise unavoidably degenerative disease.

If the infection which triggers Alzheimer occurred in a previous generation, the disease is considered to involve a hereditary form. If the infection was undergone during the patient’s own lifespan, then it is a non-hereditary form – bearing in mind that this can then still be carried forward into the following generation.

The idea that acute bacterial infections can eventually lead to chronic conditions is not new because the relationship between the two has already been proven by Lida Mattman and others in the mid 70s of the 20th century. They used large numbers of tests on animals [15,16] among other research methods. She postulated even then that the best vaccines in the future would be made using CWDBs – in other words, bacterial DNA remnants. Clinical medical practice has undervalued this breakthrough science – to put it kindly. Not in the least because it departs from the previously held principle that bacteria are strictly monomorphic organisms – a principle laid down by the father of microbiology, Dr Koch, in the previous century.

The relationship between micro-organisms and illness, including the idea that this is also part of the evolutionary process was first scientifically determined by Haldane in 1949 [4]. He mooted the idea that infection was the motor behind the classical concept of evolution. His research centred on the resistance of various rat populations to Salmonella bacteria. It became apparent that genetic make-up played a crucial role in determining the degree of resistance that a rat had to the bacteria. His publication is now ‘being cited frequently as a new, inspirational way of thinking’ according to Lederberg in “Genetics” magazine [1]. This author has revealed that a genetic mutation of blood cells (causing sickle cell anaemia) – compromises the blood circulation on the one hand, but also plays a role in protecting the carrier from malaria. It is no accident then that the sickle cell mutation is prevalent in malaria regions of Africa – which indicates the presence of both mutation and natural selection.

It is an observable fact that many people, as they become older, are increasingly prone to deterioration in their health and become dependent on medical help. This can be seen as being entirely logical, once it is acknowledged that chronic inflammatory disease and cancer are an inevitable part of the evolutionary process. This is the negative side of the process – and, in fact, it could more accurately be called involution. The fact that even young people can be affected is because the underlying evolutionary process also involves mutation induced by bacteria. It is likely that inherited health problems will become even more prevalent unless the underlying bacterial activity is somehow brought to a standstill.

Despite all these positive developments, increasing numbers of people are faced with illness and various debilitating conditions in their last 20 to 30 years of life. Unless we develop an immune system that is able to cope with the increasing microbial pressure – and we pass on this improved immune response to future

The increasing microbial pressure may eventually lead to the extinction of mankind. 

generations – the gradual increase in lifespan will come to a standstill and, in the long term, reverse into a decline. The combination of the accumulating microbial pressure and the increasingly compromised immune system will lead to a weakening of the human race and eventually its extinction – just like the 99.99% of all species of the past. [The various other human behaviours that threaten life on earth have not even been taken into consideration!]

As far as our health is concerned, there is but one causal factor in this sombre scenario, namely the accumulation of increasing amounts of foreign DNA in the human body by each successive generation. This cumulative load on the immune system can be empirically observed by those working in general medical practice but has – up to now – not resulted in any change in approach; nor has it lead to an innovative public health programme. As long as the connection between chronic illness, microbial DNA and the crucial evolutionary driving force has not been acknowledged, then the assumption that the average human lifespan will continue to rise will drive health policy and the ominous threat formed by this triumvirate of compromising factors will be ignored. The awareness of how lateral gene transfer by bacteria contributes to the development of evolution, should have a direct impact on developments in modern public health care. Particularly because it can potentially have a direct influence on the development of mankind itself.

We need to ensure that we pass on a strong immune system to our descendants instead of hereditary weakness.

What is needed is a vaccination programme to train the immune system to deal with the threat that pathogenic DNA remnants pose when they are left behind in the body after acute infections have passed. These pleiomorphic forms of bacteria have been shown to be the source of many different chronic ailments and very likely cancer as well albeit indirectly and by quite specific bacterial DNA. It is vital for the patients that are plagued by these pathogens, and for their descendants, that these DNA remnants should be dealt with before they can be passed on.

The current treatment of infectious disease needs to be critically looked at, in the light of the above.

Chronic illness can be treated - simply and without chemical intervention.

This is true for both human and animal health care. The large scale, liberal use of antibiotics does not only promote resistant bacterial strains, but it is also causing a general weakening of the human (and animal) immune system. Of course, it is not realistic to abandon antibiotic treatment completely, but its use must be limited to emergency cases and it should be prescribed for a severly restricted period of time.

At the same time as implementing this restrictive policy, it is important to develop other tools for integrated health care. One such tool would be natural antibiotics like allicine for example. This is an active ingredient formed in an enzyme reaction when a garlic clove is damaged. This amazing substance not only kills fungi and yeasts like candida albicans, but it also disposes with malignant bacteria. Although allicine acts on pathogenic micro-organisms, it has been documented that it leaves beneficial intestinal bacteria intact [17]. Medical treatments using other medicines like immune suppressants; corticosteroids and monoclonal antibodies among others - need to be avoided if at all possible.

There is one medical treatment that takes into account the three converging lines which link chronic diseases, DNA remnants in the body and the evolutionary process. This approach has been given the name of ‘autovaccine therapy’. This treatment method uses a vaccine against micro-bacterial DNA prepared from the individual patient’s own blood. Any foreign DNA that is present in the blood is encapsulated in a neutral lipid membrane and it has to be freed before it can function as an antigen. This is a relatively simple procedure, but it does take around six weeks to complete.

The autovaccine therapy preparatory process is based on the fact that blood disintegrates into its various parts once it has been kept in vitro for a time. This is true not only for the blood cells, but also for the encapsulated pleiomorphic bacteria hiding in the cells. The procedure frees the encapsulated pathogenic bacterial DNA nucleus. Once this occurs, the in vitro blood itself takes on the status of antigen and it can be used as vaccination against any chronic inflammatory disease caused by the malignant DNA. This treatment requires no artificial additives, and it is not even dependent on tests to determine the identity of the pathogen. The autovaccine therapy  is a tailor-made, individual treatment for each patient. The only factor that needs to be taken into account is that autovaccine therapy takes time to do its work, as its effectiveness depends on the patient’s immune system learning to recognise pathogenic DNA and developing antibodies to deal with them. The time required by the immune system to remove each bacterial DNA remnant varies depending on many factors including age of the patient, the length of time the pleiomorphic form has been present in the body and last but not least, it depends on whether each different type of bacterial DNA is able to be removed as easily within the same time span.

This treatment has been used on a small scale to treat many different types of chronic illnesses in the last 10 years. Thousands of vaccination injections have been prepared and used to treat hundreds of patients. To date, no harmful side effects have occurred as a result of the treatment. Many patients have experienced a short exacerbation of their symptoms at the beginning of the treatment. Sometimes the patient briefly experiences symptoms of an illness they had undergone many years previously. The principle of vaccination could not be better illustrated than by this reaction. Patients who were treated either showed distinct improvement or the treatment resulted in a complete cure. No additional medicines were used and many cases involved ailments that regular medical practice still considers incurable. This often occurred after the patient had suffered from the condition for many, many years and had been under normal medical supervision for that time. For that reason alone, autovaccine therapy should be implemented on a larger scale – or better yet, as a preventative measure on global scale. The latter application would be ideal bearing in mind the health consequences for future generations.

Autovaccine therapy treatment works well, and it can be universally applied with confidence once the empirical evidence is confirmed using accepted scientific methods. In this way, the diagnosis, the quality of the vaccine and the duration of the treatment can be optimalised for general use. Setting this up would require generous research funds. Bearing in mind that a huge portion of future health expenses could be avoided using this system – along with relieving the suffering of countless patients – it is clear that this investment should be made for the long-term benefit of us all.


  1. Lederberg J. JBS Haldane on Infectious Disease and Evolution. Genetics, sep t1,1999; vol 153 no. 1 1-3.
  2. Dobzhansky T. The American Biology Teacher, Volume 35, no. 3 (Mar; 1973), pp. 125-129.
  3. Margulis, L. 1970. Origin of Eukaryotic Cells; Evidence and Research Implications for a Theory of the Origin and Evolution of Microbial, Plant, and Animal Cells on the Precambrian Earth. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  4. Haldane JBS. Disease and evolution.Sci.Suppl. (1949) A 19:68-76.
  5. Stearns, Beverly Peterson, Watching. From the edge of extinction, Yale University Press, 2000, pp. 19-21.
  6. Mattman LH. Cell Wall Deficient Forms; Stealth Pathogens, CRC Press-London/Washington (2001).
  7. Boman J, Söderberg S, Forsberg J, Birgander LS, Allard A, Persson K, Jidell E, Kumlin U, Juto P, Waldenström A, Wadell G. High prevalence of Chlamydia pneumoniae DNA in peripheral blood mononuclear cells in patients with cardiovascular disease and in middle-aged blood donors. J Infect Dis. 1998;178(1):274-7.
  8. Karimi Gh, Samiei Sh, Hatami H, Gharehbahian A, VafaiyanV, Tabrizi Namini M. Detection of Chlamydia pneumoniae in peripheral blood mononuclear cells of healthy blood donors in Tehran Regional Educational Blood Transfusion Centre. Transfusion Medicine Volume 2010; (4): 237-43.
  9. Haranaga S, Yamaguchi H, Leparc GF, Friedman H, Yamamoto Y. Detection of Chlamydia pneumoniae antigen in PBMNCs of healthy blood donors. Transfusion 2001; 41(9):1114 – 19.
  10. David R. Riley, Karsten B. Sieber, Kelly M. Robinson, James Robert White, Ashwinkumar Ganesan, Syrus Nourbakhsh, Julie C. Dunning Hotopp. Bacteria-Human Somatic Cell Lateral Gene Transfer is Enriched in Cancer Samples. PLoS Computational Biology, 2013; 9 (6).
  11. Widespread lateral gene transfer from intracellular bacteria to multicellular eukaryotes. Dunning Hotopp JC, Clark ME, Oliveira DC, Foster JM, Fischer P, Muñoz Torres MC, Giebel JD, Kumar N, Ishmael N, Wang S, Ingram J, Nene RV, Shepard J, Tomkins J, Richards S, Spiro DJ, Ghedin E, Slatko BE, Tettelin H, Werren JH. Science. 2007 Sep 21;317(5845):1753-6.
  12. Sherbet G., Bacterial infections and the pathogenesis of autoimmuune conditions. BJMP 2009:2(1) 6-13
  13. Moir RD, et al. The Alzheimer’s Disease-Associated. Amyloid-beta Protein is an Antimicrobial Peptide. PLoS ONE 010; 5 (3):1-10.
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Evidence of the effectiveness of autovaccination has been placed on this site in the form of filmed testimonies of patients that have been successfully treated for various different clinical conditions using this therapy. The site also contains more relevant scientific background information.

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