Hi, My Name Is History And I'm A Circle
In a few of my previous blogs I have detailed the debate over the research and development of an H5N1 virus strain that could be passed between mammals, something that the current strain has difficulty doing. Well, as luck would have it, history has shown some of its repeating abilities this week with those who are involved in the debate. First, I think we need to have a wee-bit of a pow wow on what it means to encounter these types of obstacles as a human being. One of these instances kind of set the bar for the fear that a virus can excite, the next was the fear that tampering with genetics can cause, and then we will wrap it up with some modern versions of the same story.
One Sunny Morning...
Between the years 1346 and 1353, there was a little virus roaming around the European countryside (yaayyy misleading subject titles!), this little virus was aptly named (by historians looking back on the wreckage) The Black Death. In the seven year period of the 14th century that the virus presented itself, 50-60 percent of the European population was killed, effectively bringing the world population from 450 million to 296 million. That's right, 154 million people dead, killed by a virus so ruthless in its goal, so evolved in its genetic making, that there wasn't enough burning or praying that could bring solace to those ravaged by this beautiful instrument of natural selection.
Why do I bring this up? Because the absolute carnage caused by the virus brought forth a period of gorgeous discovery by the human population. Faced with the obliteration of half their population, humanity had a new look on life, and death for that matter. Dark visual imagery entered into the literary works, art, music, and philosophy. The phrase, "Carpe Diem" began to take on an entirely new face (and no, that face was not feline). Bottom line, the chaos created by this virus, and even the threat of the virus, breathed an entirely unique life into a culture that was relatively stagnant before.
Splice of Life
Fast forward about 620 years and humanity finds itself coming out of an age of chaos and creation. Loss of life, artistic creation, scientific discovery, all the same elements are occurring or have had their moment in recent years passed. Cambridge scientists are working on the ground level of gene splicing, or recombinant DNA. For those not in the know, recombinant DNA is a technique of gene-splicing that takes DNA of different species and splices them together in the hopes of creating an entirely new species. Even today we view recombinant DNA as a type of sci-fi plot line, but the science exists. Anywho, word got out to the general scientific community that there were some mad scientists experimenting with gene splicing and a war erupted between those scientists who believed it was reckless and those who believed the benefits far outweighed the risk. Caught in the middle was the average citizen who was steadily having the faith they had placed in these scientists shaken.
The answer to this debate was a moratorium on genetic engineering (a moratorium is a suspension of action) so that the brilliant minds involved could discuss the best way to go about this research. Their answer obviously has something to do with secrecy, as the average citizen who should have seen 40 years of advancement by now, has yet to see much. Their secrecy is understandable though, splicing DNA has the potential to create some pretty nasty creatures, beautiful, but nasty.
Here We Sit....
Fast forward another 40 years to a similar debate on works of science that have the capability of decimating the human population. The main difference being that instead of having a nice meeting with opposing parties, the scientists responsible for creating the new H5N1 virus had already created it by the time most found out. Also, this isn't an argument between scientists (though there is some dissent in the community), it is an argument between the governmental body and the scientific community.
As this blog is being written (and hopefully read) there is a group of "them" in a room deciding the fate of this line of research. Whatever the outcome, we currently lie on a familiar bed, though most have chosen to ignore it and go about with their lives. This viral strain has the potential to do what The Black Death did to a population much smaller than ours. This doesn't mean less death, it means much much more.
Where do you fall in the debate? Are you angry at the scientists with whom you have placed so much trust? Or are you mad at a government trying in vain to censure information that has already been unleashed? Will history repeat itself, as it always does?
Weigh in below and I will see you next week....