Monday, February 27, 2012

Manhattan's VITA COM MENSA project, 1940-1945

Dr Martin Henry Dawson's day job was not particularly successful .

His brief career as a full time medical employee (and not as a student) between 1929 and 1945 can be over-simplified down to
this : sixteen wasted years at Columbia University fruitlessly seeking to prove that Rheumatoid Arthritis was caused by a reaction to a previous bout of Strep Throat.

It is now felt that Rheumatoid Arthritis is neither 'caused' or 'cured'  in the common sense meanings of those words ,but rather simply happens at random, as a piece of very bad luck.

ALL of its 'triggers' - previous bouts of many different types of  infection, stress, genetics, age, gender, temporary hormonal imbalances, heavy smoking, low vitamin d intake,etc - all lined up together , still won't give you the disease.

Some of these triggers definitely make it worse and thus are avenues into reducing the effect of Rheumatoid Arthritis, once you have gotten it --- but nothing will stop you from getting it, if the cards of fate stack up wrong.

Yes, these triggers do seem to increase your chances of getting it - but very very moderately, in of themselves.

What seems to 'cause' Rheumatoid Arthritis is a whole long series of
random mistakes in our immune systems -- a series of random bad luck errors, all combined together.

Dawson was no better than at all his contemporary colleagues in foreseeing all this - which has taken 80 more years of worldwide research by thousands of researchers to even get us this far.

One might claim that his last day job - finding a cure for a hitherto
very common, completely incurable, fatal disease (SBE) by the pioneering application of systemic NATURAL penicillin was itself epoch-making.

I suppose, but I wonder if Dawson saw it that way - it might see so, well, small potatoes to him.

Dawson was really a biologist trapped inside a physician's body - just as his main rival ,Howard Florey, was really a chemist trapped inside a physician's body.

More accurately and more fairly, Dawson was a naturalist trapped inside a clinician's body : because naturalist and clinician are very much of one mind in philosophy and methodology.

The naturalist inside Dawson was seeking to demonstrate that if humans had commensal bacteria, bacteria - equally - had commensal humans - that in fact, all life was interdependent.

Ie we all lived together willy-nilly in a hapless muddle, sometimes loving sometimes fighting, but ultimately and indirectly dependent on each other for our continued mutual survival.

This was not some softy fuzzy line that claimed that all beings were natural co-operators, mutualistic or symbiotic with all other Life.

But nor did Dawson see Life only as 'red in tooth and claw' - the Darwinian claim that all Life was either innocent human victim or vicious pathogen cum parasite.

His commensal world had bits of both visions of Life's interactions.

What his world didn't have was Man floating serenely above and beyond the vissitudes of Nature.

That allows us to see Dawson's Pen "G" project of 1939-1945 as a fully successful working example of his view of how Life actually muddles along in a commensal world.

If penicillin was a surefire killer of bacteria produced by their micro-rivals the penicillium fungi , it clearly wasn't totally successful, at least as viewed by modernistic man.

After all  bacteria are still living and doing very well thank you.

Modernistic man was sure that we could produce a better version of penicillin, cheaply, quickly, in bulk and then kill off all pathogens for all time.

'Soon' ,said hubris-filled Sir Edward Mellanby (Florey's mentor) speaking about sulfa drugs, 'very soon we can start closing down our infectious diseases hospitals for good'.

Dawson never doubted that pathogen bacteria would soon find ways to resist any new drug that came along.

 He also knew that drug-resistancy came at a heavy cost to bacteria .

Anyway, no bacteria was resistant to everything - to do so imposed such a heavy burden on them that they were quickly outbreed by other bacteria that put more energy into reproduction than into protection.

(Basically more/smaller r-selected bacteria outbreeding fewer/bigger K-selected bacteria.)

More penicillin , then, in his view, would strike a heavy but not fatal blow to the bacteria causing disease in Man.

Like the penicillium, penicillin would help keep the bacteria a bit more at bay , at best.

But something is better than nothing.

Dawson also wasn't confident that Man COULD produce penicillin quicker faster cheaper netter than the green slime at the bottom of his test tubes.

He knew that the micro organisms, from his many pioneering  observations, were very clever indeed - if only because they been at it for hundreds of millions of years, at least.

He simply dismissed people like Florey who planned to first synthesis penicillin before using it on 1A patients.

Dawson said, I will use both humans and 4F fungi to make my pen, and I will provide it to 4F and 1A patients alike.

WWII paralleled his efforts between 1940 and 1945 but its values were anything but commensal - in fact its very antithesis.

Dawson's little project can be seen as a successful attempt to suggest a small alternative to the big war and its values...

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