genetical upgrade in sight?
i hope i live to see the day where i can buy the upgrade to my cells for virus immunity.
A compound dubbed the “pitstop” has been proposed as offering a new way to defend the body against invaders such as viruses and cancers. The joint Australian-German project is looking at cell signalling behaviours as offering the chance to block diseases that work by invading human cells. Cell membranes have to keep nasties …
Dearest El Reg,
I love you dearly, but FFS, get someone who knows a bit of molecular biology to write such articles. Cell walls, for instance, are not found in animals. Cell membranes in our cells are about as similar to cell walls as hard drives are to CD-ROMs - yes, they perform a similar function, but bloody hell, there's a world of difference.
Also, viruses are not very well known for using the cells' genetic material to replicate - rather, they hijack the cells' mechanisms to replicate their own genetic material.
In addition, clathrin-mediated endocytosis should not, I believe (but with English being my third language, I'm not quite sure), be capitalised, nor put into quotation marks.
I don't have the time to point out every error, but please, either leave such articles to other sites or hire me to do them.
Although many of these apparent breakthroughs are interesting, it is worth noting two things.
Firstly, apply the rule of unintended consequences to the breakthrough. It may take some time to find out what else these substances do, and some of these may be undesirable, meaning that the technique may never come to anything.
Secondly, the real world is rather akin to a battlefield at a genetic level, with an organisms immune system on one side, and the survival mechanisms of an untold number of pathogens on the other. In both sides, the genetic sieve operates.
Even before humans interfere, what we have are the forces of evolution working against each other. If you think about the operation of the genetic sieve on survival, it is necessary to remove the genetically susceptible members of a population to allow the non-susceptible members to survive and procreate. But the same is true on the other side of the battle, and the most obvious example of this is antibiotic resistant bacteria, where the very few surviving members of a pathogen after the application of antibiotics become the basis of the following generations. This is exacerbated by over-use antibiotics, and courses not being completed, but it will operate eventually anyway.
If we interfere, by allowing susceptible members to survive and pass their susceptibility on to their offspring, we are weakening the population as a whole, and building in a reliance to the techniques and technology for survival to the species. Just think what would happen if modern medicines became unavailable. I don't think we would quite go back to the dark ages (after all, we do now know about how infections spread, and can take physical precautions), but it would not be pleasant.
But even as we are making the sieve less effective on the survival side, we are adding to the sieve on the other. Evolution will eventually allow the pathogens to work around any barriers we put up by making successful members of the pathogen population pass on their success and killing the unsuccessful ones. Life, as has been noted elsewhere, is incredibly persistent, especially at the bacterial level.
We can and will never reach a utopia where diseases are eliminated. Evolution will see to that. And the human species really has no guaranteed right to survive over any other!
"If we interfere, by allowing susceptible members to survive and pass their susceptibility on to their offspring, we are weakening the population as a whole, and building in a reliance to the techniques and technology for survival to the species. Just think what would happen if modern medicines became unavailable. I don't think we would quite go back to the dark ages (after all, we do now know about how infections spread, and can take physical precautions), but it would not be pleasant."
No. Humanity as a whole only survives BECAUSE of it's technology. Try removing the computer, motorised transport or even fire, and see how many people off from that. The loss of ANY major technology would be catastrophic
Having a diverse genetic population is a good thing, even if some of the population are more susceptible to some diseases because of it. Diverse genetics allows a better chance of survivng a new threat.
I'm not talking about the extinction of the human species because of applied technology, just trying to put some perspective into what we are doing with regard to relying on ever more complex technological interventions to keep an unreasonable amount of the population alive.
But more interventions require more resource. I'm sure I heard a discussion on the radio recently which suggested that many countries will be spending significant proportions of their GDP on healthcare within 20 years at current change rates, and the Economist has commissioned a report that presents this as a possibility.
I was actually going to say something about diverse genetic information, particularly what are apparently unused parts of the genome, but I was going to put that into the context of the pathogens keeping recessive attack vectors in their genome, although you are right, it runs both ways (but what is the survival advantage of cystic fibrosis, mongolism, Duchenne muscular dystrophy or even short-sightedness!)
My belief is that we will probably never be able to match the natural forces of evolution, although that does not mean that we should stand still. We need to discover replacements for antibiotics, otherwise we could have a new Black Death. MRSA and C.Difficile already provide pointers to this possibility, and TB is already on the way back.
BTW, and this is a bit of a diversion. Removing fire from our tool-chest cannot happen as long as there is organic material in our environment. But motorised transport? Or the technologies that sustain the Internet? We could lose all of those.
Remember that it is still within the span of a single human lifetime that *ALMOST ALL* of what we regard as modern life has come about (OK, the steam engine, and simple internal combustion engine are more like twice, but even 70 years ago, horses were still the primary power on the land). The rate of technical change has been staggering and accelerating. There is a chance that we could be knocked back into a pre-industrial society. It would not take that much, and if there was suddenly a critical shortage of energy (like if there was a cascade failure of the electricity grids caused by a serious EMP overload from sunspot activity [I am not normally a doom and gloom monger, but the chance is there, NASA says so]), we may lose the capability to rebuild the infrastructure, including the power grids themselves. It takes a lot of serious resource, and a long time, to build the number of large high-voltage transformers that might be needed.
We've used all of the easy-access energy and other resources, and if we were pushed too far down, it would be incredibly difficult to climb back up to where we are without opencast coal, iron, or copper ore mining or easy to extract oil.
And don't start talking about solar, wind or wave power. Without an existing technical and transport infrastructure, this cannot be deployed, maintained, or utilized. I challenge you to build a working wind turbine generator (with a reasonable capacity) with just the raw materials you can find within a 10 mile radius of where you are. You are not allowed to cheat by using existing motors or alternators because that is part of the wind-down, not the rebuild of technology.
The result of a breakdown would be chaos, and conflict over resource, and could lead to a new dark age where the remaining resources were controlled by force. It would be impossible to do anything at a national level. In such a world, there would be NO internet, NO national transport system, NO national electricity grid, and the road and rail systems would degenerate remarkably rapidly.
Just think what panic there was in the UK 10 years ago because supplies of petrol and diesel were disrupted. And that happened within a space of just days!
Do you actually remember a mere twenty years ago how useful (or not) personal computers were before the Internet! Answer, not very. Good for simple games and small data projects. There was a Society, however. Computers are vital for our current way of life, not our survival. They just make it easier.
But none of this would mean an automatic extinction of the human species. The genetic sieve would probably cut back in, and maybe, just maybe, inherited intelligence could prevent a fall back to the stone ages. But people would start dying to what we now regard as curable diseases merely because the technical interventions were no longer available to keep them alive.
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