Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees
"Issues facing mankind"
review of some fundamental points emphasizing some relevant examples
like "Biology and the citizen," current affairs, the stuff that
any informed person should be conversant with
SLIDE Here is the dodo, the poster child of extinction.
But there were probably many extinctions before westerners came to islands.
Here is a SLIDE
I took at the Smithsonian natural history museum of Martha, the last passenger
pigeon who died 1 pm Sept 1, 1914 at the Cincinnatti Zoo. Passenger pigeons
became extinct from hunting and then further losses even though their migrations
darkened the skies hundreds of times per day according to Audubon.
SLIDE Panda eating bamboo
many species are going extinct, but publicity and public awareness emphasizes
"charismatic mega-vertebrates" like the Panda.
Loss of habitats (for instance forests) is a real big problem, and bamboo
forests big enough to support pandas in a populated country like China with
> 1 billion people are hard to save.
SLIDE Condor, in 1986, they were reduced to 6 in the wild and 21
in captivity, they had been poisoned by farmers who thought they were predators
(they are scavengers) - importance of zoos and captivity for recovery, but
there is the question of when to release.
SLIDE (These are shocking!!!) Elephants in Serengetti killed for
ivory by poachers
SLIDE Black rhinoceros killed for horn
We are now in a period of mass extinctionsass extinctions!!!
(but Permean extinction ==> loss of habitat, Pangaea)
(Cretacious-Tertiary==> climate change)
Even as recently as 25 years ago, much of what is going on today in molecular
biology might have been considered to be science fiction. The progress is
awesome. Several genomes have been sequenced, and the progress is fast and
furious in the human genome. Relative to a lecture series of lectures on
"issues," I will limit my discussion to one point. The March 24
2000 issue of Science reports the sequence of Drosophila melanogaster. A
consortium of universities headed by G. Rubin at U. Cal. Berkeley had been
working for years when a corporation, Celera, came up with a faster technique
(shotgun) to complete the work. Although Celera cooperated with universities
and scientists, there is a danger that important genetic information might
become patented, and this worry is intensified as Celera will contribute
to, and possibly spearhead, the human project.
WINNING (OR LOSING?) THE WAR ON DISEASE
Antibiotics like penicillin were major break throughs, but antibiotic resistance
has developed in humans.
1928 Alexander Fleming found mold killed bacteria
later, Howard Florey and Ernst Chain developed
1945 Nobel Prize
When antibiotics are added to animal feeds, resistance developed (as for
humans), so now meat and eggs have become dangerous.
Vaccines gave us strong optimism: Small pox, (1st "vaccine" [encowment])
Jenner, 1796, nearly eliminated worldwide and now the debate is whether
to get rid of remaining virus stocks, the only source of the disease but
also the only source of future vaccine manufacture.
Polio, Salk & Sabin, vaccines of the1950's, also nearly eliminate polio.
These successes were unique, however, viruses with no alternate hosts and
which do not evolve quickly.
We have dealt poorly with rapidly " evolving " viruses with alternate
hosts like flu (influenza) which has birds as an alternative host.
In US in the 1950's, hepatitis B (serum hep) was spread in giving immunizations
with unclean needles by the health departments.
World Health Organization (WHO) innoculated so many people, could they have
What a surprise to the optimists to get a new viral "Pandemic"
Since it was not until 1970 that retroviruses with their reverse transcriptase
were discovered, we wouldn't have even understood what was going on before
that and we would have been helpless.
Even with understanding, progress has been very slow.
Also, we have not come to grips with "slow" viruses ("incubation"
[latent period with no symptoms but where the individual can spread infection]
can be 10-20 years).
Retrovirus mechanism is so insidious (jumping into genome) -- they may have
found a fatal flaw
in life as we know it.
Also, since reproduction is so fundamental, the mode of disease spread is
a "clever" evolutionary strategy.
In central Africa, AIDS is a real bad problem compared with industrialized
In 1992, an article in Rolling Stone suggested that a contaminated polio
vaccine spread HIV in Africa in the 1950's; later (1999), Edward Hooper
expanded on this theory in a book, The River.
And in central Africa, diseases like ebola are also found (read Richard
Preston's 1994 best seller "The Hot Zone" about this deadly disease
and the possibility that it spread in a primate facility in Bethesda, MD.
This is a disease like in Edgar Allan Poe's "The masque of the red
Summer 1999 - West Nile virus hit New York, killing 7 people, also birds,
an encepalaitis caused by a flavivirus like a St. Louis encephalitis (and
originally mistaken as that) - took a long time to find out, New York does
not have surveillance by sentinel chickens (it took bird deaths at Bronx
Zoo to involve veterinerary experts, crucial to solve) spread by mosquitos,
problems from bird migrations
Jesse Gelsinger, age 18, died in Sept, 1999, of immune reaction to adenovirus
engineered to treat his ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency (a genetic
liver disease that leads to ammonia accumulation).
As a result, several clinical trials were halted.
Study was done at University of Pennsylvania, and there were many lapses
of good protocol.
However, adenovirus is one of the main hopes for inserting correct genes
into mutant tissues which are optimal for potential treatment.
(T. Beardsly Gene therapy setback, (Medicine, Business and technology) Scientific
American Feb. 2000 pp. 36-37)
GMO stands for "genetically modified organisms." In this country,
environmental groups such as Greenpeace, have spearheaded the opposition
to GMO. At the economic level, the US, a major agricultural exporter and
with big biotech firms, opposes trade sanctions and labeling requirements.
At the level of the world trade organization, (WTO), especially the European
union (EU), there is consumer anxiety, witnessed by terms such as "Frankenfoods."
Clearly, there can be wonderful achievements, such as the recent expression
of beta-carotene in rice; in many third world areas, rice is so preponderant
in the diet that people suffer from vitamin A deficiency. But there are
dangers such as the possibility that sterility alleles will transfer from
patented crop to other plants.
Here is a picture
of a monarch butterfly larva, happily eating milkweed. The monarch has become
the poster-child for environmental concern over corn genetically engineered
to express the natural insecticide from Bacillus thruingiensis to control
European corn borers. Will the pests develop resistance, as they have to
every other insecticide ever used?
Reference: a recent "News Focus" series in Science "GM crops
in the cross hairs" (vol. 286, pp. 1662-1668, 1999, various authors)
Here is a feature
in a recent issue of the River Front Times criticizing Peter Raven, head
of the Missouri Botanical Garden, for affilitiations with corporations involved
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this page was last updated 12/3/02