April 1999
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The State of the Human Race

by Erik Hromatka

Has anyone looked at the state of the human race lately?

I mean… I'm not racist. I'm not a Nazi. I don't think the Third World should be killed off because they are poor or uneducated, so please, read on…

I'm a biology major. I'm pretty proud of it too. While my business major roommates were drinking and watching TV, I was studying… That doesn't make me better than them… Just differently educated.

Recently, I've been asking myself the question, "Is anyone taking notice of where the human race is?"

Yes, we have created Microsoft and other major monopolies, but what about us, as DNA? (Let's skip the stuff about aliens and if they are here for now, it's really a different topic.)

I'm actually concerned with evolution…

One thing that I have learned during my biology courses is that evolution is an on going process. It's always there… If organisms don't appear to be changing, then their gene pool is probably getting smaller and in effect, as a whole, the species is changing, and evolving.

But what about humans, with all of our technology?

The United States Center for Disease Control recently release a report that said half of all the bacteria that make people sick are resistant to antibiotics.

So I ask you, the people of the technology age, is our technology good? Or, are we actually harming ourselves by using technology without foresight? We can get into an endless argument on cloning or reproductive rights, so lets drop those ideas for this discussion. What I want to talk about are antibiotics, genetic diseases, vaccines and glasses. Yes, glasses. First I would like to say that both my dad and my roommate have the thickest glasses beer bottles can make. They are essentially blind with out their fake eyes. I do not wish them dead or sterile, or I would not be here right now. I also know I will need glasses by the time I am 40 so I don't want to start death camps. But we need to remember that evolution does happen. And it happens every generation.

In the wild, an animal that has poor eyesight is at a disadvantage in its environment. There is an increasingly large disadvantage for an animal to live and reproduce as its eye sight is worse. Therefore, through the process of natural selection bad eyesight in a species is eliminated. It's not very often that a cat is born that needs glasses, or an eagle, or a squirrel. It happens, but very rarely, and usually they aren't able to reproduce so the trait is not passed on. It has been shown that since the creation of eyeglasses, the need for eyeglasses has actually increased. We are becoming a species more and more reliant on the technology we create. Small pox has been completely eliminated in human populations through the use of vaccines. There are currently two known places in the world that contain the virus that causes small pox, the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, and Russia's State Center for Virology and Biotechnology in Koltsovo, Siberia. The last reported case of small pox occurred in Africa during the 1970's. Since the early '80's no one in the world has been advised to get vaccinated against the small pox virus. This means that anyone in control of the virus has the most potent biological weapon available today. Why? Because they can vaccinate who ever they want (their soldiers) but even the current US stockpile of small pox vaccine (the largest in the world) would only protect 3 to 5 million people. I don't believe that this is a good situation, but it's not exactly what I want to talk about.

So let's focus on a different vaccine… how about measles? The truth of the matter is that the measles vaccine hasn't always been working lately. People that in the past have been thought to be safe from the disease because of vaccination have recently gotten sick from the virus, and some of them have died. What if no one was vaccinated for measles these days? Would the virus run rampant over the world like it did in the past? The answer is yes, it would. But what happens when the vaccine is ineffective against the virus? Will the disease proliferate then?

The problem with vaccines (including the measles vaccine) is that they promote evolution. Simply put, they do not allow all the targeted viruses to reproduce. In the case of small pox, it appears to stop all of the virus in the world from reproducing in humans. In the case of measles, the vaccine stopped some, but not all of the virus from reproducing. Now we are dealing with the vaccine resistant strains of measles that are still surviving. Therefore, we need a new vaccine.

How about AIDS? An AIDS vaccine appears to be in the works, and looks very promising. But HIV is a stubborn virus, and although there is hope that an AIDS vaccine may work, the vaccine will not kill the HIV virus. It will simply stop HIV from becoming AIDS in patients. This means that people that are vaccinated can have HIV, will never get AIDS, but still have a very small chance of passing on the HIV virus to future people.

So I ask you, are we going to live with the HIV virus? Is everyone going to be vaccinated and possibly infected with HIV at the same time? And if so who is going to pay for the world's vaccination? What happens if a strain of the virus is unaffected by the vaccine? (We would need a new vaccine)

I would like to mention now that I am not a pessimist, actually my friends view me as an optimist. Personally I like to think of myself as a realist.

Recently we have made huge strides in genetic disease technology. Diabetes can be controlled with insulin, cleft lips can be fixed with surgery, seizures can be stopped with medication, the list goes on and on. But what are we doing to our gene pool by passing on these diseases to future populations?

Once again, I would like to say that I am not a Nazi, I do not believe in the Aryan race, and I certainly do not want to eliminate people because of their disabilities. Before World War IIand the Holocaust, state and county fairs would actually judge and give out ribbons to who they thought were the best families. Yes, people would apply in a competition to see essentially who carried the best genetic material and there would be a blue ribbon winning family. Can anyone see why this was stopped during the Holocaust? I don't believe in this kind of competition, the truth is I have scoliosis (a crooked spinal column). Most likely I inherited this from my mother, who is also afflicted with this disease, and there is a high probability that I will pass it on to my children.

By passing this disease on to the next generation I will be, in a sense, harming our species' gene pool.

The problem is the human race is relying more and more on technology to survive, and without it many in our population would simply not be able to survive. So instead of evolving to make the species stronger, we evolve to make the species weaker, and more reliant on technology.

Technologies such as antibiotics, which have undoubtedly helped people survive in the past, are allowing the majority of our species to survive with a weakness towards bacterial infections. Instead of evolving through natural selection (yes, that means people dying) so that bacteria do not cause disease in humans we are evolving into a dependence on technology. We take drugs to treat bacterial infections that other species evolve to cope with, we have surgery to treat genetic diseases such as spina bifida (a deformed spinal cord at birth) and we pass on these diseases on to future generations. This dependence on technology leaves one looming question in our near future.

What happens when our technology fails?

What happens when antibiotics don't work? What happens when we can't treat the diseases in our society through surgery? The fact is that evolution is at work. By passing these "treatable" diseases on to future generations we are creating more of these diseases in future generations. The truth is that with each future generation we will have to have more and more health care workers to treat the growing number of people that have diseases. It is obvious that our entire workforce can not be entirely centered on health care or our society can't survive. Who would produce the food? So what are we going to do in the future?

I understand that this is all a little far fetched. You have to understand that I am looking towards the future, we aren't all going to be health care workers 10 years from now. However, I am not looking deep into the future. Antibiotic resistance is a real life problem today. It is one of the first signs that our technology reliant health may be failing and I'm afraid it is only the tip of the iceberg.

How many generations do I think we have before we really have problems providing health care to our species because of this reliance on technology and our inferior gene pool? Well, it's very difficult to say… but my guess is three generations. Three generations from now today's antibiotics will be completely ineffective and if the current lack of new antibiotic development is continued we will have no means to combat simple bacterial infections. By then the genetic diseases, that we so easily pass on today to the next generation, will be more difficult to fix due to the sheer population numbers of people effected with the diseases. So where do we look for answers? Genetic engineering could solve many of the problems we are facing today. It could be used as a tool to evolve ourselves toward a more fit, less healthcare dependent race. But the technology to do this is not available today, and probably not in the near future, not to mention the highly controversial "God like" role it would have to play.

So I want to you to look a little more carefully at the news from now on. When you hear or read someone speaking of new surgeries, drugs, or cures for a disease, stop and ask yourself, "What effect does this have on our future generations?"

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