September 11, 2009

The Evolutionary Advantage of Microbes

Right now we're working on the fastest biochem review in the history of the world. Okay, so maybe not in the history of the world, but definitely in my world. As a class, I think although we have times of being really frustrated, we're all nerdy enough that learning about bacteria, viruses, and protein misfolding is really really cool. One of our professors who has been teaching us about different types of pathogens answered a question posed by a classmate the other day, about WHY something happened with: "Instead of asking "Why" in science, which is very hard to answer - ask "What is the evolutionary advantage of this..." and I just totally dug it.

Antibacterial medication is now super common because we discovered (totally by accident - see: Alexander Fleming and look under "accidental discovery")that because bacteria had been competing amongst themselves for food, space, and other supplies, they (and plants and fungi) had developed nasty ways of getting rid of each other. But then evolution skipped right past super helpful to somewhat harmful - this getting rid of each other resulted in the selection of bacteria who were resistant to some of these defenses, thereby introducing resistance to antibacterials. It's not that bacteria are super all. It's just that there are so many of them, that they can naturally select for THE MOST ADVANTAGEOUS traits - even if there's only a one in a million chance of a certain gene being incorporated in a certain place, because there are probably one million bacteria on my body right now (and yours).

While I still am anxiously awaiting our anatomy labs - learning about pathogens and how they evade even our best scientific knowledge is pretty fascinating.

“I have been trying to point out that in our lives chance may have an astonishing influence and, if I may offer advice to the young laboratory worker, it would be this - never to neglect an extraordinary appearance or happening.”
-Alexander Fleming

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