Measles cases in the U.S. have hit a 25-year high, with 78 new infections in the past week alone. In St Lucia after one passenger was diagnosed with the disease.
As society has become more and more convenient , hygienic and wrapped in cling film, many hark back with dewy eyes to the natural and supposedly wholesome lifestyles of our ancestors in pre-industrial times. Besides the fear around vaccines, growing numbers of people make their faith in the organic movement, the anti-GM lobby and new age philosophies. Mother Nature instead.
Coupled with this is a very positive view of evolution. It is seen as a caring and compassionate force which has shaped us and the rest of the natural world.
But this idea of evolution as benign is extraordinarily wide off the mark. Evolution is a brutal and uncaring, even obscene opponent, which is constantly trying to outmaneuver and overcome. Perhaps because of the brilliance of Charles Darwin's theory, evolution has just been on easy ride for far too long.
Evolution from the inability of any organism to a perfect copy of its DNA to the next generation. For this we can thank factors as DNA of the DNA; and the basic instability of DNA when exposed to certain chemicals or types of radiation that have always existed in our environment. It means that nobody has ever inherited a perfect copy of their parents' DNA. Indeed, one of the reasons we have a couple of years ago, we have a second back-up gene to cover.
When our DNA mutates, natural selection steps in this and that is where things get really ugly. Natural selection is the process through which the mutations in a species are "best suited" to their environment thrives, while "less suitable" ones are the off shape of sharks' fins.
In the past, our ancestors were subjected to full-strength, undiluted, CFC-free, pure-organic, additive-free natural selection. Flashes, drowning and much more. The biggest recipients were young children, for whom the least useful mutations could have happened. During an average of 30 to 40 years of human life span, mothers would produce eight to ten children of the same age. "
This was evolution writ large : The inexhaustible cruel erosion of the vast majority of individuals, in favor of the tiny lucky minority who had the genetic ability to survive until they could perpetuate this cruel cycle. By running that little bit faster than their brother or sister, the genetic winners avoided getting ripped apart by a pack of hungry wolves. While they are clinging to life in Famine or Disease, they watched their siblings fade and die. If we believe the human diversity data, we are a species which is less than 600 individuals over 1
Unfortunately, of course, humans are still evolving today. People are still dying from disease and starving from deprivation perpetrated by unequal societies and a laquer of access to food and medicine. We remain at the mercy of natural selection, the least moral way for a species to develop. The only way to do so is to make a moral obligation.
The only way to do this is to embrace the results of scientific inquiry. Our greatest achievement as a species has been to break free from the sheer nakedness of evolution. GM food to avoid starvation. Spoils-an important consideration for an increasing population. And most importantly, we need vaccines to prevent disease. We never again expose our children to the wholesome, fully organic, unblemished and obscene fury of Mother Nature unleashed. Love science, hate evolution.
Alasdair Mackenzie is a Reader of Molecular Genetics at the University of Aberdeen, UK
This article is republished from Conversation under a Creative Commons license.
Alasdair Mackenzie receives funding from the BBSRC and Medical Research Scotland.
Views expressed in this article are the author's own.