Will science kill us all because we haven’t evolved to fight some new germ

Jan 11, 2014


Discussion by: uniquename

Due to the advent of science we have been able to fight disease, germs and the such.  We will continue to develop new ways to fight them.  But will it all bite us in the ass some day.  

So theoretically we should be evolving as a species to mutate to fight germs and disease but instead we use science and medicine. So at some point in the future do you thing a germ will come along and kill us all.  One that we could have fought off if we were allowed to evolve to build up an immunity?

This of course would happen thousands or millions of years in the future and we probably will detroy earth by then for other reasons but hypothetically what do you think?

33 comments on “Will science kill us all because we haven’t evolved to fight some new germ

  • 1
    Neodarwinian says:

    Huh?!?

    I suggest you Goggle immune system.

    ” but instead we use science and medicine.”

    How do you think they trick the body into the proper immune response?



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  • 2
    NoneOfTheAbove says:

    Isn’t that about the same as saying that, for instance, many animals are doing it wrong by raising their offspring in dens, considering that a greater exposition to cold, heat and predators would select them to be tougher?

    The main problem with this, I think, is that selection isn’t a kind phenomenon; in order for a species to get tougher, a great number of its members have to die an unpleasant death, and even then, success is far from guaranteed, so that our decision should be to have many of us die in the hope that we get better at resisting germs instead of becoming extinct.

    Also, even without medicine, every time one species gets more resistant to a kind of germ, it’s mostly just a matter of time before germs get more effective.

    On a side note, please remember that only a fraction of humanity actually gets to benefit from medicine; most of us don’t.



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  • 3
    Reckless Monkey says:

    Hi uniquename,

    you are forgetting the third world. Before what you are talking about to happen you would first need to end world hunger and poverty. There are billions in the world currently very much under natural selection. So don’t worry, not a problem until we solve those issues.



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  • I think in the future we won’t have to worry about naturally evolving to meet any survival pressure because we will be perfectly capable of improving our genome, and we’ll use computers to make choices no other natural system is capable of making. Talk about the ultimate bootstrap!



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  • 5
    SurLaffaLot says:

    What about AIDS? Isn’t that something that we haven’t evolved to resist by immunity? When AIDS first arose in humans, it was a virtual death sentence. Great inroads have been made in combatting it. It would be much more lethal, I guess, if HIV could be spread via airborne organisms. At least with AIDS we can avoid the virus by certain physical means.

    I guess that what you fear, uniquename, is somewhat possible, so we’d better be careful. I suppose one tactic against water-borne or airborne pathogens is our ability to isolate ourselves from any source of the pathogen, eg. in a filtered-air plastic bubble tent, or with bio-hazard suits. In that way, it would not be the whole human species which would be wiped out. So, as with HIV/AIDS, only some of us would die as a result, and humanity would keep on going.



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  • This is a misthought question. Science can never hurt us, however, we can use the knowledge gained from science in destructive ways. (Duh?)



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  • 7
    Sheepdog says:

    In reply to #5 by SurLaffaLot:

    What about AIDS? Isn’t that something that we haven’t evolved to resist by immunity? When AIDS first arose in humans, it was a virtual death sentence. Great inroads have been made in combatting it. It would be much more lethal, I guess, if HIV could be spread via airborne organisms. At least with AI…

    Don’t forget, it is not in the interest of the parasite to be universally fatal either. The (unconscious) object of the parasite is to extract energy from the host while developing a mechanism to facilitate it’s transfer to another host. Of those few that do remain inevitably fatal, rabies is an excellent example. It must by necessity develop a sophisticated transfer mechanism. In this case It affects the host’s brain, causing the host to run and bite while at the same time it concentrates itself in saliva.

    While medical advances certainly are turning HIV AIDS into a life shortening chronic condition, in the same way that diabetes affects life and lifespan, the virus itself is evolving into a less virulent form. Considering that sexual contact is it’s “preferred” transmission mechanism, the host has to remain sexually active long enough to pass it on in infectious quantity.

    As it’s virulence lessens, the opportunity window for it’s transmission increases.

    Another example is the human papilloma virus, carried without harm by a large part of the male population, but instrumental in cervical cancer. The virus, by not damaging the health of men, increases its opportunity to spread, again by sexual contact.



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  • Is this question trying to refer to our current (mis)use of antibiotics? I think you’ll find that science is doing it’s best to find other bays to tackle infection than just antibiotics. I have a sneaking suspicion you are in favour of natural selection to evolve an immune race. Fine, you let your kids die of an infection and see how good you feel about yourself then.



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  • 9
    Alan4discussion says:

    So theoretically we should be evolving as a species to mutate to fight germs and disease but instead we use science and medicine. So at some point in the future do you thing a germ will come along and kill us all. One that we could have fought off if we were allowed to evolve to build up an immunity?

    Actually humans and other species are being subjected to massive forces of natural selection due to the spreading of pests, diseases and other invasive species by mechanised transport systems rapidly moving pests and pathogens between concentrated populations.

    Some new flu virus in China travels to London, Dubai, or New York in a few hours on an aircraft.

    Mortality rates are reduced by medical interventions – but usually only very recently in developed countries.

    There were massive epidemics in the recent past – with for example large percentages of indigenous populations of the Americas being killed by diseases imported with the Conquistadors, and plagues ravaging all large cites during the last few thousands of years.

    It is human greed, carelessness, and stupidity, rather than science, which spreads diseases.



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  • In reply to #7 by Sheepdog:

    Don’t forget, it is not in the interest of the parasite to be universally fatal either.

    Of course it is not, but it is only with hindsight that the parasite can find that out and by then it may be too late. I mean suppose some ideal parasite appears that is spread through the air and, after a suitable incubation period during which the host is infectious, the parasite becomes fatal to the host. The DNA has done it’s bit in getting to the next host, the dormant period allows this, but indeed ultimately all the hosts will be exhausted. But how can the parasite foresee this? It can’t, so obviously such a disease could arise, it just has not happened yet.

    Personally I think science is helping us by taking over where evolution would have no hope. So in terms of the original question, no science will not be our doom.



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  • 11
    maria melo says:

    In reply to #6 by Quine:

    This is a misthought question. Science can never hurt us, however, we can use the knowledge gained from science in destructive ways. (Duh?)

    Just make up some reflection on these few words, an notice the bold upon them.
    To talk about”science” in vacuum seems too easy, isn´t it ? Just to make a stupid analogy of mine, that occurs to me because today in some of my readings -I gave been reading Faust´s recreation poem by Fernando Pessoa. Here´s my stupid analogy:

    [devil to the woman]”so the dove feels so light in the air that it feels that flying in the vacuum would be better”

    Universal Right to Be Free from Inflicted Suffering?
    BOOK REVIEW AND COMMENTARY by Ralph R. Widner
    ISP President
    “Are Human Rights Universal?” by Thomas M. Franck in FOREIGN AFFAIRS, January/February 2001, v.80, Number 1, pp.191-204.

    THE GUILT OF NATIONS by Elazar Barkan, W.W. Norton & Company, New York; 2000.

    “Despite all the difficulties of putting it into practice…humankind today is less willing than in the past to tolerate suffering in its midst, and more willing to do something about it.”

    –Kofi Annan Secretary General, United Nations September, 1999

    For the last several years, the International Society for Panetics has operated on the presumption that there is a growing global acceptance, embodied in numerous international agreements, of the right of individuals not to have suffering inflicted upon them by their governments, institutions,professions, or by social groups. ISP has also asserted that there is an increasing willingness on the part of the international community to intervene to curb the most egregious humanitarian abuses. A growing number of Heads of State are called to account before international and national tribunals for just such inflictions.



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  • 12
    I-am-not-a-theist says:

    In reply to #7 by Sheepdog:

    In reply to #5 by SurLaffaLot:

    Of those few that do remain inevitably fatal, rabies is an excellent example. It must by necessity develop a sophisticated transfer mechanism. In this case It affects the host’s brain, causing the host to run and bite while at the same time it concentrates itself in saliva…

    I don’t think we can say that rabies had any ‘goal’ such as a necessity to ‘develop a sophisticated transfer mechanism’. Given its environment, the virus was simply selected for, naturally. Otherwise it would be extinct. Having said that, animal control and vaccination programs in several countries has seen rabies eliminated entirely.



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  • 13
    Sheepdog says:

    In reply to #12 by I-am-not-a-theist:

    In reply to #7 by Sheepdog:

    In reply to #5 by SurLaffaLot:

    Of those few that do remain inevitably fatal, rabies is an excellent example. It must by necessity develop a sophisticated transfer
    mechanism. In this case It affects the host’s brain, causing the host to run and bite while at the same tim…

    It is difficult, maybe, in a discussion such as this to avoid the use of anthropomorphic terms like “goal” and “object” and “preferred” with using so many quotes as to render it unreadable. Evolution is of course without goals, purpose, or intent. My intent however was to point out the adaptions and evolutionary “pressures” that the parasite undergoes as well as the host, in “defending” itself.

    While rabies is less deadly, thanks to improved vaccines and treatment following infection, and less likely due to, as you point out, control measures, there is a vast and varied animal cross species reservoir that renders its entire extinction unlikely any time soon. Unlike small pax, that had no reservoir outside humans of it’s virulent variety.

    “The Coming Plague, newly emergent diseases in a world out of balance” by Laurie Garrett discusses all these issues including drug resistance at a very readable and knowledgeable level, and I would recommend it highly.



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  • 14
    canadian_right says:

    No.

    Vaccines work by “priming the pump” of your natural immune system. You need a working immune system for a vaccine to work.

    Anti-antibiotics do just kill bacteria, but due to misuse and how fast bacteria evolve we are going to have to invent a lot of new antibiotics in the very near future. Extremely lethal viruses stop spreading pretty quickly because dead people don’t move much. It is very unlikely that a virus, or other disease, will every kill as many people as the Black Death which may have killed up to 25% of some cities population. We know more about how disease spreads, sanitation, quarantines, and have much more effective government to enforce required measures to stop an epidemic.

    The very worst pandemics in the past could kill from 25% to 33% of a cities population. That leaves more than enough people to recover.



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  • 15
    Sheepdog says:

    In reply to #10 by naskew:

    In reply to #7 by Sheepdog:

    Don’t forget, it is not in the interest of the parasite to be universally fatal either.

    Of course it is not, but it is only with hindsight that the parasite can find that out and by then it may be too late. I mean suppose some ideal parasite appears that is spread throu…

    A case could be made that were HIV transmittable by aerosol, instead of requiring intimate body contact, it could well have been the example you have in mind. Whether when faced with rapid and universal dissemination, science could have responded in time is an interesting point indeed.



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  • 16
    Catfish says:

    Not a fan of the “no pain – no gain” approach myself. Always suspect a religious influence in this type of idea (ie. everybody is naughty and needs to be punished). Mother Teresa thought suffering was a wonderful way to bring people closer to Jesus and was not so keen on use of pain killers in her orphanages and hospitals. Am not so happy that our Australian Prime Minister is a lifetime Catholic (studied to be a priest for some years) and seems to have a bit of this “we are all sinners and need to be punished” in his policies. He was always treated as a joke in the past and usually referred to as the “Mad Monk” but circumstances were created were the public loathed the other options even more and so now we have the Mad Monk in charge of policy.



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  • There’s so much wrong thought going into this question that I didn’t know where to begin.

    At this point, I just want to add a comment about antibiotic-resistant bacteria. While on the surface it seems an example of what the original poster is alluding to, it is, in fact, nothing of the sort. Such resistant bacteria are more dangerous solely due to their ability to render antibiotic treatments ineffective. They are actually less dangerous than their non-antibiotic-resistant cousins to a normal immune system, because that resistant has costs. So if you’re stuck with an infection and no antibiotics available, you’d be better off with an antibiotic-resistant strain, which your immune system will be better able to fight off.



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  • 18
    Ornicar says:

    So theoretically we should be evolving as a species to mutate to fight germs and disease but instead we use science and medicine. So at some point in the future do you thing a germ will come along and kill us all. One that we could have fought off if we were allowed to evolve to build up an immunity?

    Nonsense. Evolving to resist a virus is precisely getting most of us killed by that virus.



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  • 19
    plaidandpolkadots says:

    If I understand what you are asking correctly, an extremely potent germ typically kills quicker than it spreads. If we are talking about a particularly drug resistant bacteria, most of those are not spread by aerosol, so there is control over whether you catch it (STD’s).

    So far HIV is the only virus that has no survival rate without medical intervention. I’m not super worried. Don’t you think, at the slow rate at which evolution takes place, the species would be in more danger without science?



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  • 20
    Dave Ucannottaknow says:

    “So theoretically we should be evolving as a species to mutate to fight germs and disease but instead we use science and medicine.”
    This already happened on multiple occasions. An attack of the Bubonic Plague from 1347-1350 caused the deaths of over half of the population throught Europe , and this doesn’t account for it’s impact on Asia! The same disease hit London again in 1665, and thousands died – they were buried in mass grave trenches. In 1918, over 50 million people died worldwide of an influenza (the flu) outbreak (that makes the recent H1N1 scare of Mexico City look quite tame by comparision). Nobody was ever using science to fight disease prior to these outbreaks, but a lot of people were using religion.

    “So at some point in the future do you thing a germ will come along and kill us all. One that we could have fought off if we were allowed to evolve to build up an immunity?”
    If a deadly virus hits your city tomorrow, and you are exposed to, then you will die unless you already have natural immunity to it (through a desirable genetic mutation). A pathogen is able to kill millions only when the majority of the hosts which it attacks don’t have immunity! The only way that you can “build up immunity” is through the safe exposure to dead pathogens, which is called vaccination, a A pathogen is able to kill millions only when the majority of the hosts which it attacks don’t have immunity! The only way that you can “build up immunity” is through the safe exposure to dead pathogens, which is called vaccination, and this can only be produced through the science which you think is such a bogey-mannd this can only be produced through the science which you think is such a bogey-manat you can “build up immunity” is through the safe exposure to dead pathogens, which is called vaccination, and this can only be produced through the science which you think is such a bogey-man!

    “This of course would happen thousands or millions of years in the future and we probably will detroy earth by then for other reasons but hypothetically what do you think?”
    Refer to the above, and note how diseases kill in great numbers far more frequently without any medical intervention. It is worth considering how much of a Pandora’s box our medicine may be playing with, and then doctors are giving this a lot of thought – it’s why they don’t want to hand out antibiotics anymore when you don’t need them to kick this season’s flu, and they won’t actually do anything for you! However, sitting on our thumbs and waiting for natural selection to put down the next microbial dragon will not save any lives at all. You can expect millions, possibly billions to die by waiting, or you can develop better medicine (which has a pretty good record so far on saving more lives than it takes).

    My vote is NOT for Captain Ludd!



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  • 21
    Stephen of Wimbledon says:

    Hi uniquename,

    You need to search for the Doomsday Clock to find the most probable human-sourced end to humanity.

    Neodarwinian (Comment 1) provides another useful search term, as you appear not to understand how immunology works.

    The straight answer is that AIDS nearly wiped us out already. It could happen in 2014 with an, as yet, unknown disease.

    As to whether other medical interventions will affect the survival, long term, of our species … the jury is out. Longevity is nice, but if we want to give the gift of an abundant World to our children, we have to die. Artificial insemination automatically selects, in many cases, traits the evolution long ago weeded out. In evolutionary terms we are changing the environment and, thereby, changing ourselves.

    Only time will tell.

    Peace.



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  • 22
    Alan4discussion says:

    @OP- So theoretically we should be evolving as a species to mutate to fight germs and disease but instead we use science and medicine.

    There is minimal prospect of humans with our slow reproductive rates and long childhoods, evolving faster then bacteria or viruses.

    It is our immune system’s adaptability, which protects those of us who have a suitably developed immune system that has had the opportunity to be primed (by environmental contact or vaccination) to resist attacks.



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  • 23
    steve_hopker says:

    Interesting point, but overall I think we have and still do evolve regarding infections. However, without medicine a new and fatal germ would still be a problem as we would have not evolved immunity.

    There are, tragically, several cases where humans without any medicine have encountered new germs and been more or less wiped out as they had no chance to evolve immunity. I think this included indigenous peoples in the New World (flu?) and also, perhaps more surprisingly, Boer women and children in British concentration camps – they had lived in rural isolation from chicken pox, etc.



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  • 24
    SaganTheCat says:

    firstly we don’t use science and medicine instead. we use it when our own immune systems are unable to cope. Before antibiotics and vaccines, people didn’t survive TB or rabies small pox. they dealt with them in natures way (they died). some humans might have evolved immunity but bacteria and viruses mutate at a much higher rate than slowly reproducing animals.

    secondly, an illness could pop up tomorrow that wipes out the human race within weeks. nothing to do with using or not using science, it can happen, it’s fairly unlikely but viruses for example, have evolved over billions of years along with their natural host. they cause no problems until an invasive species (apes) stumble across them and suddenly a virus that hadn’t killed anything in millions of years suddenly finds a new ape host with no immunity. thanks to the ability of apes to travel the world quickly, this virus could cover the world before it shows symptoms (imagine something as deadly as ebola with the incubation times of HIV).

    I’m afraid the OP suffers from a common assumption that there is some objective “right way” that nature does things and then there’s science doing things differently. everything is natures way. science isn’t supernatural



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  • 25
    Nunbeliever says:

    There is this common misconception that bacteria are evolving into some kind of super bacteria that are more deadly in every way. That just isn’t true. They evolve immunity against certain forms of antibiotics. But, that does not automatically make them more deadly. It just means, we can’t kill them with antibiotics. Humans have survived bacteria long before the invention of antibiotics. Yes, a future world without effective antibiotics will lead to many more dying. Especially individuals who for other reasons have a weakened immune system. Still, as others have pointed out regarding how many we are today it’s highly unlikely that we will go extinct because of naturally evolving bacteria. If that was the case we would most likely all be dead by now. A more dangerous aspect in this regard is genetically modified bacteria which could potentially lead to the extinction of humanity as a whole. But, that’s a whole other topic.



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  • 26
    Joseph Wolsing says:

    At one point in the future we will have “smart blood” in our bodies that kills every kind of unwanted germ there. No seriously I think this is like a game. We develop medicine by the help of science new ways to fight the causes of deseases and at the same time more and new causes for deseases occur. In the end we depend on our brains and our mental performance This is our wing, our fin, our jaw. It is ridiculous to wish to turn back time to a state with less technology. If this happens it will be collateral damage. Maybe the combination of our way to pollute the environment and to change the climate will lead to a situation where we have to start from the beginning.



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  • 27
    Joe Wolsing says:

    At one point in the future we will have “smart blood” in our bodies that kills every kind of unwanted germ there. No seriously I think this is like a game. We develop medicine by the help of science new ways to fight the causes of deseases and at the same time more and new causes for deseases occur. In the end we depend on our brains and our mental performance This is our wing, our fin, our jaw. It is ridiculous to wish to turn back time to a state with less technology. If this happens it will be collateral damage. Maybe the combination of our way to pollute the environment and to change the climate will lead to a situation where we have to start from the beginning.



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  • 28
    ikinmoore says:

    Even a lay person such as myself will understand that in nature not all animals/humans will die of new germs in this world. Some people/animals will have a natural immunity. Think of AIDs, there are people whose immunity will fight a disease without the benefit of medication. I believe that Actor Paul Micheal Glaster had this natural immuity when his wife and daughter died of the HIV in the 1980s/1990s.



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  • We might kill ourselves off because of our intervention in the natural world, sure. Evolution, though, takes place on much, much larger time scales than a few hundred years. There really is no answer to your question.. we can’t know how evolution will or won’t affect us as a species unless we can look at hundreds of thousands of years of time.. and since only a bit over a century since the germ theory came up has passed, I don’t think we have enough information.

    As far as ‘evolving to build up an immunity’ goes, the immune system is basically the same in all humans, and yet we have epidemics of smallpox killing 90% of the various tribes in North America. Immunity is not only about how our immune system has evolved.. it is about what it has been exposed to and learned to deal with. Evolution is not really coming into it, as much as other mechanisms.



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  • 30
    uniquename says:

    I promise my next question will be better thought out before hand. I’m thinking the next one will be more an advice question.



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  • As a species we are resilient enough to survive any epidemic because there will always be somebody, somewhere, who is immune because of the genetic diversity that results from having to have sex with each other to make babies.



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  • 32
    Thunderballs says:

    In reply to #5 by SurLaffaLot:

    When AIDS first arose in humans, it was a virtual death sentence. I…

    “Arse injected” was the first part of the acronym I remember hearing in the school playground as a teenager in the 1980’s.

    And to think we found mutated cells in the foreskins of certain African male populations that have led to drugs to manage HIV….



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  • 33
    Rhondalove says:

    The Earth’s human population is so numerous till perhaps even if an especially virulent form of disease comes along and kills huge numbers of us, there probably will be some who are immune and will survive.



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