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Evolution, Natural Selection and Public health: A Covid19 Perspective

A robust public health system maybe our only defense against resistant and unknown Biomes writes venkatesh in this piece.

Charles Darwin in 19th century, proposed an interesting theory of evolution, and three of his theories have been validated time and again and become the law of natural selection.

The three laws of Darwin are

  1. Prodigality of Production
  2. Struggle for Existence
  3. Survival of the fittest.

When we see the evolutionary aspect specific to human beings, man seems to be nurtured nature to a great extent through social and technological innovations that he brought to live a domesticated or tamed life far from wildness of nature.

Man seems to have tamed first law- prodigality of production by balancing with economic viability of nurturing child, that lead to the direction of minimizing birth rates , innovations in medicine aided this to minimize urge for having more children over centuries, defeating first law.

Man seems to have taken upper hand with his innovations and technological discoveries and minimizing the struggle for existence, in fact comforting himself to great extent to protect from vagaries of nature.

Survival of the fittest: This is the natural law, where how so ever the innovations at onestage or the other Man has to yield to the power of nature, still man is not able to win over to help the weakest of human being to survive over nature’s power.

Nature vs Nurture dialogue

Natural course:

In the course of human history, infectious diseases have been among the most important causes of mortality and morbidity for humans, including plague, smallpox, and tuberculosis (TB), measles, and diarrheal infections. Studies of the origins and distribution of infectious diseases examine the geographic distribution, life stage, and evolution of the infectious agent [malaria parasites, TB mycobacteria, cholera bacteria, influenza, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS and HIV); the geographic distribution and life cycle of intermediate hosts (arthropod vectors for many diseases, birds for avian flu, bats for SARS, and deer and ticks for Lyme disease spirochetes); the geographic distribution of diseases they cause in humans and other species; and the key clues that some population subgroups are strikingly more or less susceptible than others. Infectious agents are also important factors in major “noninfectious” inflammatory diseases, like certain cancers, atherosclerosis, and arthritis

Inter species race to super power: Evolution in Action

Within the microbial world, there is remarkable interspecies competition and cooperation. Microbes exchange genetic material, even with different genera. They compete for space and food sources, adapting to selective pressures. Fungi have been particularly adept at producing antimicrobial chemicals that protect them against bacteria. Starting with Fleming’s use of the extract of Penicillium to kill Gram-positive bacteria, patients have benefited from these antibiotics from nature. These chemicals may be isolated and used directly, or they may serve as lead compounds for drug development. However, microbes are not passive agents. They respond promptly to negative natural selection in the form of antibiotics by developing genetically transmitted resistance to the action of individual antibiotics or sets of antibiotics. If these microbes are pathogenic to humans, our response is to create generations of antibiotics; hence, the “race to superpower.”

Nurture Course:

Man continues to evolve not only biologically but also through anthropological social means and tactics to make his life better. In the process nurtured a parallel evolution in his sphere called “Culture” leading to dynamic changes in food habits, living, and protection from nature. Organizing politically to streamline set of cultural patterns across the globe for the benefit and wellbeing of the species Homo sapiens.

Current Pandemic COVID19 and course of nurturing: Nature continued to keep checks and balances to the course of nurture by man. Famines, floods, cyclones etc. of geographical nature have changed the course of the human nurturing process. Human association with wild animal food habits has been tapered for a quite long time as man continued to be civilized, however, the famines lead man to go back to wild and survive the nature’s fury.

Living on animal meat wild is not new to humans, since hunter- gathers time, man is accustomed to live on animals wild or domesticated. In the course of human evolution as he evolves as social being, his biological capacities of disease resistance has taken back seat, thus man lost capacity to gel with powerful biome of the nature. Between 1958- 1961 China faced severe famine, and survival has become a challenge, then Man took the recourse and restarted sourcing food from wild, in large scale supported by policies and politics, wild animal meat has become source of food, that lead to 360 degree turnaround from domestication to wild way of feeding, living on wild meat.

This has taken economic scale and China is spread with Vet markets all around, where anything moving is commercialized and dined. The human incapacity to fight resistant biome (Microbes) in the wild off late lead to many epidemics in a course of 5 decades, we have Ebola, Zeta virus Sars, H1NI, and now Covid19, the origin may be China or Africa or any other place, the change in food habits nurtured by culture and rapid decrease in immunity of human beings due to nurturing, lead to the scale of pandemics we have been witnessing now. The frequency of epidemics increasing, as man power to wild is plummeting due to excessive nurturing and cultural domestication.

If we see Nature vs Nurture scenario in comparison of two contrary theories one Biological theory of Darwin on Natural selection vas Malthus sociological & statistical theory of Demographic transition, the direction of trajectory is evident

Darwin vs Malthus: Darwin’s law- 1. Prodigality of Production 2. Struggle for existence 3. Survival of the fittest. Malthusian demographic theory states stage1- High birth rates – High death rates stage 2- High birth rates – Low death rates 3. Low birth rates- Low death rates. With evolution of medicine and technology. Darwin’s 1st law becomes redundant, so Population is controlled. Human innovations minimized Man’s struggle for existence. Man’s penchant to reverse natural process of survival of the fittest is challenged by innovations and man said its “survival of the weakest”. This principle of evolved man is challenged again by COVID 19 and pandemics in the past. Man Vs Nature– struggle continues.

Inference: The struggle of man to tame the nature continues, man continues to takerecourse to duck nature fury through pandemics, resistant biomes and changing natural process which are unknown and stronger. The only ammunition is to build, develop robust public health structures, functions and processes along with rapid innovation in medicine to tame unknown natural enemies like resistant biomes, whether its viral, bacterial, protozoans, helminths etc. and remain vigilant to natural transitions and transformations. Human might of nurturing through technology, medicine, culture appears to be miniscule in the larger scheme of nature’s innovations.

About the author

Bhaskara Venkatesh is a master’s in Anthropology and works as a senior manager with the technology industry.

Reference: https://www.pnas.org/content/107/suppl_1/1702

Note: The thoughts are a collation of various anthropological, biological snippets in a structured logical sequence by author.

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