|Unnatural Selection: How We Are Changing Life, Gene by Gene
"'I see resistant staph all the time,' says nurse practitioner Maggie G."
Gonorrhea. Bed bugs. Weeds. Salamanders. People. All are evolving, some surprisingly rapidly, in response to our chemical age. In Unnatural Selection, Emily Monosson shows how our drugs, pesticides, and pollution are exerting intense selection pressure on all manner of species. And we humans might not like the result.
Monosson reveals that the very code of life is more fluid than once imagined. When our powerful chemicals put the pressure on to evolve or die, beneficial traits can sweep rapidly through a population. Species with explosive population growth—the bugs, bacteria, and weeds—tend to thrive, while bigger, slower-to-reproduce creatures, like ourselves, are more likely to succumb.
Monosson explores contemporary evolution in all its guises. She examines the species that we are actively trying to beat back, from agricultural pests to life-threatening bacteria, and those that are collateral damage—creatures struggling to adapt to a polluted world. Monosson also presents cutting-edge science on gene expression, showing how environmental stressors are leaving their mark on plants, animals, and possibly humans for generations to come.
Unnatural Selection is eye-opening and more than a little disquieting. But it also suggests how we might lessen our impact: manage pests without creating super bugs; protect individuals from disease without inviting epidemics; and benefit from technology without threatening the health of our children.
Have you ever thought about evolution and what the human race will evolve to next? I do all the time. I even have this theory that “the spectrum” is the next step in our evolution. What we might think is a hindrance for autistic and Asperger syndrome might actually be an advancement in thinking. Think about it, evolution goes slowly right? Plus it’ll learn from its mistakes. What if we are in the beginning stages and down the line our brain capacity will increase without the social disabilities attached to the syndromes? However, I am digressing and this book mentions nothing about that, it’s just a theory I’ve hashed around. Even though the book doesn’t discuss much of where humans are evolving to, you will learn the evolution of things around us (and scare you to death).
The book does a good job setting us up with a little history of antibiotics, mainly because the points lead to the future of bacteria and the human resistance to potential super-bugs. If the mention of super-bugs doesn’t make you shake, this book will be a cake walk to read. However, if you are ready to hunker down in a fallout shelter, you might want to tread carefully with this information. A great quote from the book that sums up the fear I felt, “We beat life back with our drugs, pesticides, and pollutants, but life responds. It evolves.” Doesn’t that almost seem like a tag line for a horror movie? See, Scary!
Why does the author focus on bacteria to discuss evolution? “The first step is understanding how our choices impact life’s evolutionary course. And so we begin close to home, with an impending public health disaster: antibiotic resistance.” It’s easier to see and understand, we can draw a timeline of how things are evolving because germs, bugs and bacteria evolve faster due to the size and population growth. Humans and animals reproduce more slowly, therefore they will evolve slow, for example, “we won’t see the evolution of tusk-free African elephants in heavily hunted populations or containment-resistant polar bears”.
Let’s just say, the Author is really smart to use infections and antibiotics as the source of discussion, the statistics speak and they don’t paint a very pretty picture. Every antibiotic we swallow brings us closer to a resistant superbug that will be sure to attempt a wipe of humanity. What was once easily treatable is now potentially fatal. We are told that every year “nearly 37 million pounds of antibiotics are used in the United States”. Of that number, only a percentage is willingly swallowed, some of them are being introduced in our livestock. Think again about swallowing those eggs at breakfast, you could be slowly dosing yourself with antibiotics. Actually, not “could be”… I’m pretty sure you are. One of my favorite quotes from this book, “Antibiotics weren’t just for the sick and dying anymore – they had become an integral part of ‘what’s for dinner.’” *Shivers*
I could probably go on and on about this because I have another two pages of notes and highlights but I need to save some of this for you. I’m pretty sure you should read this. The Author has a purpose for this book, “Rather than risk heading off into a near future filled with “superbugs”, we can change how we interact with pests and pathogens, reduce the pressure, and still maintain some degree of control.” I’m hoping the awareness spreads and the Author accomplishes this because this terrifies me. I’m not saying you “have” to read this but I “want” you to read this.
P.S. - I was graciously given this digital book from Netgalley and the Publishers to read and give my thoughts. Thank you!
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