The October Thing #6 – Pathogens and Warfare – September 10, 2011

Pathogens and Warfare

We are destroying ecosystems at a faster rate than Chicxulub comet/asteroid did 65 million years ago. As the pieces of the econetwork disappear, weedy enterprising species (think Kudzu) replace them. Imagine a world dominated by Kudzu, roaches, ragweed, rats crabgrass, tse-tse flies, privet, mosquitoes, etc…Yet the most enterprising creature of all are the bacteria and, especially, the miases that are thriving on a warming planet.

Interestingly, we are creating an unintentional “biological war” by simplifying ecosystems. Whenever we simplify an ecosystem, there are fewer host species for bacteria and viruses to rely on. The viruses evolve quickly to prey on other species. Thus a virus specific to monkeys, Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV), evolved into HIV to take advantage of the more populous species, humans. One of the main problems is increasing human/primate contact in research laboratories. It now appears that SIV leaped over to humans because of polio research in primates.

The process is not unique to Africa. It occurs in any impacted ecosystem. The rise of pathogens like Hantavirus in Korea represents a similar phenomenon. As Richard Preston (The Hot Zone) and Laurie Garrett (The Coming Plague) have pointed out, antibiotics and other medicines are not long term solutions. We must halt the destruction of ecosystems, restore biological diversity, and limit human contact with animal blood and urine.

Sometimes the pathogens are transported on purpose. Michael Carroll’s Lab 257 discusses the disturbing history of the U.S. biological warfare on Plum Island (off the tip of Long Island, New York). The lab, which Carroll and others have described as slipshod, with poor containment and security, studied Lyme disease and West Nile virus, among other diseases that did not previously exist in this country. Somehow, it seems, the diseases escaped and made their way into the Long Island and Connecticut countryside. Migrating birds have now brought the disease to the rest of the country.

This raises the spectre of governments doing dangerous things and keeping them secret. A huge secret at the time, it is now widely established that the U.S. government allowed the Pearl Harbor attack in order to overcome U.S. isolationist views and allow us to enter W.W.II. Similarly, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were to ensure that Japan surrender to the U.S. before Russia could invade Hokkaido. What were we planning to do with West Nile and Lyme disease anyway?