Monday, August 24, 2015

October 1940 : purifying or preserving the Gene Pool of 'useless' penicillium & SBE genes

Is the world safer by minimizing or maximizing the Gene Pool ? 

In the Fall of 1940, American Science renewed its century long efforts at triaging and then discarding much of the world's gene pool; this time under the new guise of a sudden need for "American Military Medicine Preparedness".

It was a movement, ironically enough, that was mostly led by conservative Isolationists among the scientists, men who had long opposed military intervention to help the little peoples of Europe from the evil axis of Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin.

These conservative Isolationists had long opposed intervening to help the little peoples of America as well (opposing Social Medicine for example) so they could not be accused of inconsistency, merely of heartlessness.

That Fall, they gave off plenty of indications that the stripping down for military preparedness meant the final death of Social Medicine.

No good news for the young patients suffering from then invariably fatal SBE.

The conservative isolationists considered that even if the SBEs survived one bout, eventually another would certainly kill them.

Meanwhile the SBEs just consumed lots of scarce medical resources without any prospects they would recover enough to become useful servicemen or do productive work in war industries.

With many conservative doctors believing that SBE, along with most diseases afflicting the poor and minorities, were highly genetically based, it could even be asked why even bother keeping them alive long enough for them to breed and pass on their defective genes to another generation of the collective human gene pool ?

Weren't the SBEs' genes something rather to purify and discard out of the human gene pool ,by a strict policy of deliberate government neglect, and wasn't the excuse of a planning for a Total War the best time to start doing so ?

Even lower on the conservatives' scale of genes worth retaining than those of the SBEs were the genes of that common household pest, the blue green penicillium mold.

If obtaining adequate amounts of lifesaving penicillin meant keeping the genes alive of the slimey mold that originally made penicillin, many were against it.

Better that human chemists, the smartest in the universe, quickly bested the slimey little chemists and made better penicillin cheaper and faster and far more predictably.

Synthetic man-made penicillin in this war or no penicillin, said Howard Florey, while Alexander Fleming and the Allied medical establishment cheered assent.

Dr Martin Henry Dawson strongly disagreed.

He felt the world would be better off, enriched even, if SBE patients like Bobby Darin was allowed to live, perhaps even to sing, dance and act, rather than to squalidly die from deliberate government neglect.

And his entire scientific career had been devoted to proving up his belief that the small and the weak and the useless 'gene carriers' all had something to bring to the commensal table of global Life.

Dawson had demonstrated more than enough examples showing that the microbe chemists were far far smarter than anyone had ever imagined.

He was not at all sure that the penicillium chemists hadn't polished the production of penicillin to a fine velvet sheen over hundreds of millions of years of trying -- and that the smartest chemists in the universe mightn't be able to beat them in a few frantic months of trying.

No matter how much money and labs and bombast was thrown at the problem.

So on October 16th 1940, a day the nation specifically set aside to triage all the 1A young men in America, Dr Dawson injected natural, freshly squeezed, orange colored penicillium juice into two 4Fs of the 4Fs patients, SBE sufferers Negro Aaron Leroy Alston and Jew Charles Aronson.

A product from rejected microbe genes injected to save some rejected human genes, as Dawson sought (against the grain of 1940s thinking on the topic) to preserve and protest the existing gene pool, not purify it and shrink it.

So began our present Age of Antibiotics - in a wartime scientific dispute over whether it was better to reduce or preserve the world's gene pool.

Dawson and Florey certainly weren't the only ones to dispute this issue : on the wider stage, Hitler certainly had his own take, as did Europe's Jews.

But, as is well known, the Dawson-Florey dispute was the only one that ended happily for humanity ....

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