Microbial Suicide: Towards a Less Anthropocentric Ontology of Life and Death
Body and Society
© The Author(s) 2017
While unicellular microbes such as phytoplankton (marine algae) have long been considered immortal unless eaten by predators, recent research suggests that under specific conditions entire populations of phytoplankton actively kill themselves; their assumed atemporality is being revised as marine ecologists recognize phytoplankton’s important role in the global carbon cycle. Drawing on empirical research into programmed cell death in marine microbes, this article explores how, in their study of microbial death, scientists change not only our understanding of microbial temporality, but also reconstruct the relationship between life and death, biological individuality and assumptions about a natural teleology associated with bounded biological systems and genetic programmes. Reading this research together with a Derridean deconstruction of the limit between human and other animals with respect to death, this article explores how the deconstruction of individuality from within biology may suggest alternatives to our anthropocentric notion of time and embodiment.
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from SAGE Publications via the DOI in this record.
Published online 31 July 2017