In Research

You must know your enemy in order to defeat them: this ancient and very wise saying could help us to look at the impact that the SARS-CoV2 is having on our lives from a different angle.

This theory is explained very well in this video by the philosopher Telmo Pievani, who provides us with a picture of the phenomenon from his particular point of view (that of an evolutionist):

“A package of RNA surrounded by a tiny protein capsule, the size of one ten-millionth of a meter, has turned our existence upside down. How is that possible? Let’s examine the issue from an evolutionary point of view: these organisms – we don’t know whether to define them as living or semi-living – are ancient and have been around for more than three billion years. This means that they have had a lot of time to first infect bacteria and then to start and continue with the fight, from six hundred million years ago until now, with multi-cellular organisms, including us. Viruses are ancient, whereas we are a very young species – we have only been around for two to three hundred millennia. Therefore they have a certain advantage over us. RNA, in particular, is quite an unstable molecule, more so than DNA and maybe even older: hence viruses mutate much quicker than us human beings. We, in comparison, are pachyderms, we are really, really slow”.

If we compare our species to viruses, the factors of experience and speed are therefore all on their side. However, there is an aspect that we ought to keep in mind: from the perspective of the SARS CoV2 virus, human beings are the ideal target. And this is why:

“We are 7.5 billion potential hosts, spread all over the world and we have invented means of transport (ships, trains and airplanes) in which we assemble and the majority of us live in cities and metropoles: we are the perfect host for the spread of the SARS coV2 virus.

Let’s not forget, viruses follow a primordial Darwinian imperative: to multiply and make as many copies of themselves as possible for as long as they can”.

It is obvious that we aren’t in the strongest starting position. We therefore ought to be very cautious, careful and on the defensive. Instead, over the last few decades we have done the exact opposite: with our behavior we have helped viruses to attack us.

 “Upsetting and spoiling ecosystems, especially our rainforests, is a very bad idea if we want to defend ourselves from these viruses, because by doing so several of these microorganisms, the most dangerous ones, have jumped species: they have been transferred from the animals that hosted them, which served as hosts or reservoirs (such as bats, flying foxes, rodents and primates) to humans. If we destroy the environment, for example by replacing rainforests with palm-oil plantations or others that lure animals out of the forest, this means significantly increasing the possibility of them coming into contact with us. And that is not a good idea”.

The gradual destruction and modification of our ecosystems, which is also happening in the last remaining untouched areas of our planet, facilitates the transmission of pathogens, like viruses, from wild animals to humans. This can occur when wild animals come into contact with pets, but not only this way:

“We go and get many of these wild, exotic animals that we can’t even hunt from the forest, we bring them out and we load them onto ships and put them on display in various markets (not just in China: these markets are found all over the world), grouped together, in cages, dead and alive, in appalling hygienic conditions, while attendants and customers touch and come into contact with them without the least precaution. In a situation like this, the RNA virus does its job, unfortunately: it jumps species if it can and we give it every opportunity to do so”.

The incredible thing is that we homo sapiens have (would have) a great advantage over viruses: our brains. With our intelligence we are perfectly capable of predicting and imagining what could happen, taking action in time to make amends. But yet we continue to make mistakes. This is a luxury that we can absolutely no longer afford: pandemics produce an unsustainable cost in terms of human life and socio-economic damage.

As Professor Pievani reminds us, viruses have formidable enemies that we can unleash on them: scientific research, hygiene, social progress (poverty, inequality, famines and wars are all close allies of viruses) and defending the environment.

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