Natural History, Not Technology, will govern our destiny

Natural History Not Technology will govern our destiny

We do this in our homes, hospitals, backyards, farm areas, and even, in some cases, forests when we use antibiotics, food poisons, herbicides, and any other “-cide” . And the effects are always predictable.

Michael Baym and his colleagues at Harvard University recently built a large Petri plate, or “megaplate,” divided into a series of columns. Baym then added agar, which is both a food and a habitat for microbes. In the outer column on either side of the megaplate was agar and nothing more. Moving in, each column was subsequently surrounded by antibiotics at increasing concentrations. Baym then released bacteria at each end of the megaplate to determine if they were resistant to antibiotics.

The bacteria did not have antibiotic-resistant genes; they entered the megaplate as unprotected as sheep. And if agar was the pasture for these bacterial "sheep", wolves were the antibiotics. The test mimicked the way we use antibiotics to control bacteria that cause disease in our bodies. It mimicked the way we use herbicides to control weeds in our lawn. He imitated every way we try to hold back nature every time it enters our lives.

The law of natural selection would predict that, as long as genetic modification could occur, through mutation, the bacteria should eventually be able to resist antibiotics. But it may take years or more. It may take so long for the bacteria to run out of food before they have become able to spread into the columns with antibiotics, the columns filled with wolves.

It didn't take years. It took 10 or 12 days.

Baym did the test over and over again. He played the same thing every time. The bacteria filled the first column and then slowed down briefly, before growing one and then many layers against the next highest concentration of antibiotics. Continue this until some of the layers have grown against the highest level of antibiotics and poured into the last column, like water over a levee.

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Seen quickly, Baym's test is awful. It's beautiful too. It is enormous in the speed at which bacteria can go from defenseless to inevitable compared to our power. Its beauty lies in the prediction of experimental results, with an understanding of the law of natural selection. This prediction allows for two things: It allows us to know when resistance can be expected to change, whether among bacteria, insects, or any other group of organisms; it also allows us to control the river of life so that it is less prone to the evolution of conflict. An understanding of the law of natural selection is essential to the health and well - being of humans and, in fact, to the survival of our species.

There are other biological laws of nature with similar consequences. The species range law governs how many species live on a particular island or habitat as a result of its size. This law allows us to predict where and when species become extinct, but also where and when they re-emerge. The law of the corridors governs which species move in the future as climate changes change, and how. The law of escape describes the ways in which species thrive on the escape of their pests and parasites. Escape describes some human successes compared to other species and how we have been able to find such an amazing abundance compared to other species. The law frames some of the challenges we will face in the coming years when our chances of escaping (from pests, parasites, etc.) are reduced. The law of the place governs where species, including humans, can survive and where we will be able to live successfully in the future in the face of climate change.

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