Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Penicillin Los Alamos would have killed millions

Thank God, thank God, thank God ----- for unanswered prayers.

Thank God that all penicillin research was not as centralized as the atomic bomb research effort was.

Because the overwhelming consensus of the loudest, most aggressive, most powerful voices in science held a rigid dogma that synthesis was the only way forward for wartime penicillin.

But wartime (& postwar) penicillin synthesis efforts proved a total failure.

A total waste.

Thank God , not so much in money lost, but a total waste of lots and lots of lost precious time.

(Pause here to say a prayer for all the poor mommies that needn't have died and to all the daddies and kiddies that grieved their loss).

"Big (Tents) are always Better"

But among the many small, diverse, de-centralized, home-made,amateur, DIY, stones that these bull-headed builders rejected (the humble people who actually gave us our precious age of antibiotics) let me cite but one example.

His name is Milislav Demerec, wartime head of the Cold Spring Harbour Institute which until then was known mostly as the Eugenics Movement's main research centre.

Early in the war, Demerec, acting as a patriotic individual and not as representing his Institution's collective opinion, suggested that a mini radiation attack (from a suntan lamp) on the growing penicillium spores.

He reasoned the radiation might kill most of them but might also throw up mutations with extraordinary penicillin producing qualities.

("What doesn't kill you, only makes you stronger" ?)

He was totally ignored by Penicillin Central (Vannevar Bush's OSRD) but Bush's much smaller rival in Washington's bureaucratic conflicts (always America's real war), the WPB's OPRD, took up his idea.

His idea worked so well that today the best in the little penicilliums produce 50,000 times as much as they did back in 1940 !

So even if it had been possible to commercially synthesize penicillin , it would only be so at a cost level thousands of times above the little ones' efforts.

It took a 'coalition of all possible talents', small as well as big, a Big Big Tent, to bring wartime penicillin forth.

So, truly, FP Schumacher's "Small is Beautiful" might have just as accurately labelled "Big (Tents) are always Better".

But he didn't --------- and I just did.....

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