Thursday, June 18, 2015

Confounded Progress : a book about "Penicillins, Ancient and Modern"

A book about WWII's warring penicillins, Ancient and Modern

The genes that make penicillin reside today inside members of the comparatively recent fungus family, but these genes actually began their existence inside bacteria, those tiny creatures ancient beyond all time.

Ancient they might well be and simple too, but these microbes somehow do a very, very, very efficient job as chemists.

Again and again they are found to be very rapidly making complicated molecules, in the correct stereo image, and without impurities, at normal temperatures and pressures, without need for heavily built reactor vessels or expensive reagents.

All this not unnaturally makes human chemists jealous and resentful - never more than in the late unlamented Era of Progress, when human chemists were at the very top of the food chain and small stupid microbes were supposed to foot the very bottom.

Together, top chemists and bottom microbes were to support the whole Progressive Era 'scientific/natural' hierarchy that allowed whites to repress blacks, adults children, men women, the healthy the cripples.

All predicated on the claim that Life formed one seamless and vertical 'Great Ladder of Progress'.

A ladder stretching from the stupidest,oldest and smallest to the newest, biggest, smartest white human civilizations at the very top.

So the news that such a very great boon to humanity like penicillin could only be made by the stupidest and couldn't be made at all by the very smartest, threatened this whole tissue of lies.

Which is why that for twenty years (1928-1948) the 'smartest chemists in the universe' sought, in war as in peace, to make an improved modern version of the fungus's ancient penicillin.

They even placed their psychological need to shore up the idea of Progress before the medical needs of millions of dying patients, crying out in vain for any sort of penicillin --- be it ancient or modern .

So much so that when the last projects to try and produce man-made synthetic penicillin finally failed, so, to a large extent, did the very idea of Progress...

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