Human life exists only due to evolution. Believing and understanding the premise of the evolution of traits and species provides the framework to examine today’s life on earth with respect to the environmental pressures that have triggered changes over the billions of years since the big bang. If natural selection together with random mutation are responsible for simple and complex cellular entities, predictions might be made for the future that are not so palatable. I refer to the concerns raised about antibiotic resistance that has developed to medicine’s most powerful bacterial defense weapons. Due to overuse and misuse of previously effective treatment modalities, we may be at risk of being eradicated by simple microscopic organisms as a result of the same evolution that allowed us to overcome most of the earth’s environmental challenges.
As a human biology major I simply accepted the ideas presented by the authors about the importance of studying evolution. Understanding how plants and animals have changed over time and within different environments seems impossible without asking why it occurred and falling back on an explanation including natural selection. Obviously, this is exactly what happened when Charles Darwin suggested a plausible reason “why” change could be explained. I must admit I never considered how expansive the process of evolution might be considered. Extending evolution into the social sciences and as a basis for cultural issues is difficult for me since I am more comfortable with a Punnett square. To this end I have considered how evolution may be our undoing.
Over the last twenty years advances have occurred in the development of more complex medication to combat bacterial infections that invade our bodies. Since the recognition of microscopic organisms that challenge our immune systems, evolution has been somewhat of an enemy. For nearly one hundred years penicillin has been the basis for fighting bacteria that would and did kill humans around the globe. My great grandfather died as a result of a simple bacterial pneumonia that today is typically treated successfully with an antibiotic during an office visit and a few days off work. Unfortunately, the simple cures that penicillin offered led to a practice of overprescribing and misuse. People might stop their treatment of antibiotics when they began feeling better. This allowed the few remaining bacteria in their body to either multiply or infect a new host with a significant resistance to the original medication. Alternatively, patients came to see their primary care or “family” doctor with sinus congestion, headache, and a nasty cough only to be told they had contracted a cold virus. Without antiviral medications, the practitioner might prescribe an antibiotic when the patient became irate and distressed they were only offered advise to drink liquids and get plenty of rest. Over time these problems with our health-care system resulted in new generations of antibiotic-resistant bacteria or so-called “super bugs.” Today, even combinations of drugs that attack the bacterial wall or its DNA have little effect on the most resistant strains. During a shadowing experience with a surgeon at a local trauma hospital, I observed a patient who had contracted a bacterial necrotizing fasciitis that is called the “flesh-eating bacteria.” The infection started from a tiny cut that seemed insignificant but spread rapidly over a few days. Since antibiotics were not effective the patient had required multiple surgeries to remove the infected skin and underlying tissue from nearly 25% of his body. Excising the infected areas was the only alternative to remove the bacteria. If antibiotic resistance continues to develop, scenes such as this will be more and more common as evolution becomes our enemy.