Thursday, December 18, 2014

Philosophy Wire: Resistant bacteria. Arrogant humans.


Philosophy Wire by Spiros Kakos [2014-12-18]: Ernest Cable was a British soldier who died in 1915 from dysentery caught in the trenches of northern France during the first world war. Even if penicillin had been available to treat him, he would still have died because the bacterium that made him sick, Shigella flexneri, was already resistant to the world's first antibiotic. That was years before Alexander Fleming discovered it in 1928. Nor would he have been saved by erythromycin, which was discovered later, in 1949. The bacterium was found to be resistant to that too.

These historical insights into antibiotic resistance, now described as a global epidemic, come from DNA sequencing of the bacterial strain that killed Cable.

"Cable is almost like the unknown soldier in that he has no known relatives, but now everyone will remember him, so he's been immortalized in a sense," says Kate Baker of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, Cambridge.

Baker says that the resistance they found is the result of an evolutionary arms race between rival microbes. [1]

We believe we find new things. But everything is old.
We believe everything evolves around us. But everything existed before we existed.
We believe we are special.
And we can be. Only if we understand that we are not...

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