Tuesday, August 9, 2016

reductionist Eugenics, born and throttled at Cold Spring Harbour ...

Nobody in the American scientific-corporate-medical-government cartel controlling the fate of the Allies' wartime penicillin wanted to hear from him.

However, Dr Miroslav Demerec, the new director of New York's Cold Spring Harbour eugenics labs, those ever vigilant guardians of the racial purity of America, still thought he might have a solution to the desperate shortfall in natural penicillin production available to heal all of the sick and dying, the 'unfit' as well as the fit (!)

The cartel didn't want to hear from him because while the shortage of naturally-made penicillin for dying patients was very real, it was also a deliberate creation of that same cartel.

The 'shortage' was intended to hold off vocal Allied civilian demand and hence attention from Axis chemists, until the cartel's Allied chemists had a patent lock on pure man-made penicillin, intended to go into military frontline use only   ----- and only after D-Day.

The Allied hope was that the vastly superior infection-fighting qualities of penicillin would greatly speed up the percentage of lightly wounded Allied troops quickly able to return to combat, compared to the percentages returning to combat from the surprised and unprepared Axis still relying on outdated Sulfa drugs.

Dr Demerec wanted to use the high dose x-ray radiation techniques of microbial 'eugenics' to induce far more mutations among penicillium spores than typical in Nature, in the hopes that among the very few survivors of all this nuclear blasting, there just might be one spore that proved a very high penicillin yielding strain.

The cartel, controlled by America's all-powerful OSRD and Vannevar Bush, ignored Demerec.

But a few years later, a much smaller, much less powerful but more New Dealerish/people-oriented government agency, the War Production Board's OPRD, took up Demerec's offer.

Dr Henry Dawson, in decidedly 'impure' Manhattan (at least in the eyes of the world's eugenic believers) was overjoyed : at last his faith in the ability of the primitive little penicillium to produce cheaper, more abundant, safer penicillin than the cartel's chemists had been fully justified ---- equally his vision that all the world's sick should expect succor.

Incredibly soon, Demerec's research paid off as incredibly high yielding strains provided more than enough cheap safe American naturally-grown penicillin for all the world's sick ----- and also spelled the death knell to the cartel's years of expensive chasing the never-never chimera of commercially viable man-made penicillin.

As a direct result of those high (highly profitable) yields, if chemistry was the queen of all science during WWII and atomic physics for a few years thereafter, today Demerec's micro biology is the queen of all the sciences, in academia and on Wall Street.

The unexpected consequences were even more immense.

The stunning scientific triumph of simple primitive creatures from the bottom slime of Nature besting the top human chemists 'in the universe' then allowed the moral triumph of 'abundant natural penicillin for all' over 'patented man-made penicillin for the select few'.

And so spelling the end of the kind of exclusionary thinking that had led to the Cold Spring Harbour eugenics lab being set up in the first place.

For it was their initial faith in a scientific model of a highly vertical Tree of Progress, with the very stupid microbes at the very bottom and the very clever civilized chemists at the very top, that had held together the eugenicists' belief in the racial superiority of civilized folk over 'primitive' folk.

Not only did the high yielding penicillium strains best the world's top chemists, they themselves would normally be considered highly unfit and degenerate strains, as the metabolic energy they devoted to producing all that penicillin came at a high cost to their biological fitness, their ability to reproduce rapidly.

Except that in the frequent times of food crisis for the fungus, these strains' greatest defect became their greatest virtue, as their antibiotic penicillin kept non-penicillium competitors at bay and allowed them, at least until conditions again returned to 'normal', to be in fact, the most biological fit.

Confirming dramatically that there never was any biological imperative towards the big strong all around fit in Nature, because Darwin had always insisted that it is 'the survival of the fittest', tiny niche by tiny niche, brief moment by brief moment.

And only a great diversity of lifeforms could fill all the niches, all the time, successfully.

So yes, it is a highly local story, if also a highly improbable story : 'impure' Manhattan borough triumphing over Long Island's 'purist' Cold Spring Harbour, with help from that same 'purist' Cold Spring Harbour.

But it also all of humanity's story as well ....

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