Sunday, May 25, 2008

Blog 3: The Genetic Stalemate

In Mad Comics there was a feature called "Spy vs. Spy" in which two cloaked crows, one white and one black, constantly tried to outwit each other. The message I got is that the attempt to outdo another by sneaky means is never completely successful and we end up in a stalemate. I often think of that when we use antibiotics against bacteria, herbicides against weeds, and pesticides against insects. If the agents are not used properly (and many humans are imperfect in their understanding, motivation, or behavior when using such agents) the pests come back resistant to these agents. Thus we have to seek new antibiotics, new herbicides, and new pesticides. In turn these will encounter more resistant mutant strains and again bring back the pests that imperil our health, foods, or lawns. I would much prefer a limited usage of these agents because some of them could be carcinogens or damage human health in other ways. We don’t always test for the unforeseen. Routine use of antibiotics to increase the weight of livestock is not a good idea because of the likelihood of generating resistant strains. Individual use of antibiotics for those individuals who are sick is a good idea because it can save a life. Use of antibiotics to prevent a bacterial infection a person doesn’t have seems less desirable (unless a person has a compromised immune system). Perhaps the medicine and public health of the future will vastly increase the number of microbes for which immunization for life is possible and thus reduce the need for those antibiotics. Developing genetic strains resistant to rotting, worms, insects, and the like might also be a better way of dealing with pests than chemical herbicides and pesticides.

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