You might not realize it, but antibiotic resistant infections could be the most important medical science issue you will face in your lifetime. You’d be forgiven for not knowing. You’ve grown up during the only time in human history where this wasn’t one of the likely ways you’d die or become ill.
Maryn McKenna has written a fantastic piece about the battle of man vs. microbe at Medium. Read it. She will take you from the 1938 death of a Rockaway Beach firefighter to early warnings by Alexander Fleming (yes, that guy) to the antibiotic-laced farms and feedlots that may constitute ground zero for today’s crisis. What begins as a tale of a life that we had no way of saving ends as a tale of, well, lives we might again have no way of saving.
I don’t mean to scare you, but I absolutely mean to tell you that this is some srs bsns that you need to deeply process, and I guess kind of scare you a bit too, now that I think about it.
To me, this isn’t really a tale about the need for new drugs or other treatments or even a lack of understanding of the inner workings of a particular class of microscopic lifeforms. It’s about a special kind of scientific hubris. Our hubris is not that of Icarus, in which the quest toward elevated knowledge and powerful technology has somehow doomed us to fall *splat* upon the Earth, scolded into a more humble existence by some mystical force in return for daring to control our own biology.
It’s not the ambition that is our problem. It’s our failure to respect the power of evolution. These hands, these minds, these chemical and physical tools that we wield, all are the product of unthinkable time and unfathomable tinkering by the forces of nature. We may never fully map out the journey that has molded us, or uncover the challenges that sparked us to rise above our cousins, or appreciate even a fraction of just how something as awesome as us could come to be.
That story is forever incomplete, but we know that evolution wrote every page. Today, as it has for billions of years, that powerful process plays out in untold numbers of single-celled species, of which every one traces its origin to long before we were a twinkle in Earth’s eye. Microbes are willing to undergo massive death and revolution for the sake of the survival of a few. We are not.
We’re a pretty mighty bunch, us humans. But if we don’t want to live in a future where every skinned knee could be a death sentence, where burn units and kidney dialysis and transplants are risks that medicine can’t afford to take, then we need to invent a solution that respects evolution, and involves it in the solution, rather than ignoring its power.
(image from Maryn McKenna’s story at Medium)