Miss Mabrouk of Egypt

Check the archives too - a lot of good stuff to enjoy. Me myself? Off to new adventures in the blogosphere, if time permits.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Viral Hanky Panky

Evolution or intelligent design? Darwin against God? The current debate in the U.S. is bizarre: why would you not teach science and be able to introduce the opposing theories at the same time? I thought learning was about realizing how little we actually know. Is not Plato speaking to American educators any longer?

Here is someone else they should listen to since we perhaps are up for a nasty demonstration of evolution in action. “Spare a thought for H5N1, the virus causing avian flu,” evolutional biologist Olivia Judson is writing.
The virus might infect someone already sick with a strain of human flu, and the two viruses could have sex, thus creating a new virus that contains some genes from each. Such viral hanky-panky is thought to have led to the flu pandemics of 1957 and 1968.

Or the virus could mutate in such a way that it becomes able to travel between people. Mutations to an avian flu virus are thought to lie behind the 1918 pandemic.
Sex and mutation are two fundamental mechanisms of evolutionary invention. Mutations alter the information content of genes; sex shuffles the pack, generating new gene combinations. ... Now that we can sequence genes and genomes, we know precisely how evolutionary changes accumulate. We know the differences between a fruit fly and a mosquito, between a human and a chimpanzee, between a virus that kills chickens and a virus that kills people. ...

Whether it's preventing a flu pandemic or tackling malaria, we can use our knowledge of evolutionary processes in powerful and practical ways, potentially saving the lives of tens of millions of people. So let's not strip evolution from the textbooks, or banish it from the class, or replace it with ideologies born of wishful thinking. If we do, we might find ourselves facing the consequences of natural selection.
- IHT 

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