Thursday, July 30, 2015

Microbes evolve into civilized Man, uncontroversial --- Microbes evolve while remaining microbes, heresy

In 1940, Dr Martin Henry Dawson was a scientific heretic.

His heresy was in focusing upon (and endlessly talking up) various discomforting forms of microbial evolution.

In 1940, microbes weren't supposed to evolve - I mean not after Day One.

Today we encounter all these forms of microbial evolution in our very first lectures in Microbiology 101 - they are essential learning.

Let's begin with all the wonderful lifesaving beta lactam antibiotics, starting of course with Dawson's natural penicillin. And how these amazing medicines work their non-toxic magic by breaking up molecules essential to other life forms but not to us humans.

But then how these antibiotic molecules, in turn, are liable to be broken up by other chemicals from the microbes under attack. And so it goes, on and on and back and forth.

How the bacteria and other microbes survive and flourish against all the best defence systems that the human body and human doctors can throw up against them.

Their sophisticated abilities in areas like Horizontal Gene Transfer (HGT), quorum sensing and molecular mimicry, as 'lie low persisters', their various goo capsules, the daringly wall-less L-Form bacteria, their communal biofilms, all helping the microbe to survive inside us.

Then their dangerously effective chemicals like the flesh eating 'spreading factor' (hyaluronidase) that so helps them to flourish against us.

All subjects of scientific papers - often pioneering papers - from Dawson between 1925 and 1945 --- and still cutting edge science even today.

In 1940, the scientific consensus was that the 'essence' of all the microbes at the lower left of the ever upward arrow of progress was to be eternally stupid and weak ---- and to remain eternally unchanging.

Except that the primitive microbes were permitted to mark the very primitive beginnings of the long slow process of evolution ever upwards that ended in the brilliant changeability that is Civilized Man, at the upper right of the arrow of progress.

Dawson never denied that there were some things we humans do very well and the microbes do very badly.

He said only that that the converse was equally true : abilities and defects (physical and moral) were well and truly mixed throughout all the lifeforms, not exclusively separated into stupid and bad at the bottom and good and smart at the top.

Now exalting the concepts of mixing and mixtures is perhaps the most distinctive feature of the intellectual life of our present post-1945 age.

Whether you call it the post modern age or the post progress age, its all the same.

It is interesting to ask, therefore, what part did the popular journalism of wartime penicillin play in ending "The Progress Project" so abruptly in 1945 ?

Because try as the 1945 scientific/government/commercial elite might, they could never get the ordinary uneducated public (as opposed to say educated historians) to buy into the explanation that penicillin came from highly expensive, highly complicated, highly sophisticated chemical "deep tank" factories.

The popular journalism penicillin stories always seem to be what journalists call 'brites'.

You know : cute stories of dogs walking on back legs, cats smoking cigars and ordinary bread mold grown in ordinary bottles on ordinary kitchen tables saving lives when the most expensive drugs of the sophisticated corporate chemists couldn't.

I am not denying Auschwitz and the Atomic Bomb's hearty roles in the demise of "Progress".

But I have also come to believe that all these mass media "Ripley's Believe it or Not" flavoured tales of clever primitive microbes and stupid civilized chemists were as devastating, in their slow cumulative way, to The Progress Project as anything the then obscure Adorno and Horkheimer ever wrote ...

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