Ian Malcolm, the fictional Chaos Theorist from The Jurassic Park written by Michael Crichton, had commented in one of the sequels of the original film adaptation “If there’s one thing the history of evolution has taught us, it’s that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories, and crashes through barriers painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, uh, well, there it is”. Modern evolutionary biologists have theorised evolution to be chaotic. According to Charles Darwin, the inheritance is almost implied by reproduction, variability from the indirect and direct action of the conditions of life, and from use and disuse. Struggle for life (or existence) is a direct consequence of Natural Selection, involving divergence of character and extinction of less improved ones. Modern evolutionists differ from Charles Darwin, on the frontier that evolution cannot be contained within the periphery of some sets of laws, rather chaos often make evolutionary dynamics unpredictable. It has been proposed that the Big Bang occurred around 13.6 billion years ago, and the earth somewhat assumed its present shape around 4.5 billion years ago. Viruses have been conjectured to have emerged just before or after, the divergence of the prokaryotic and eukaryotic lineages, around 2 billion years ago. The evolution of virus is even more intriguing. They had been initially classified as poisons, then as biological chemicals and viruses today are thought of as something in between the living and non-living, in spite of the fact that they can replicate but only when docked inside truly living cells. They also have the ability to affect the behaviour of their hosts. It has been proposed by certain experts that viruses, although may have started as simpler and autonomously replicating life forms, turned later into obligate intracellular parasites. Possibly, viruses went on to become successful parasites thereby sacrificing its free living entity.
In view of the recent COVID19 pandemic, it can be said that the novelty of this novel coronavirus is not solely because of the degree of lethality or the dynamics of its diffusion, one may argue. Yes, the virologists have their own reasons to have it named ‘novel’, but with a different outlook, it is indeed ‘novel’ as the crisis showcases the conspicuous but overlooked relation between infectious diseases and gratuitous over exploitation of nature and ‘cosying’ up with her. The earth has witnessed five events of mass extinction. The End Ordovician, 444 million years ago, Late Devonian, 375 million years ago, End Permian, 251 million years ago, End Triassic, 200 million years ago and the last one when the dinosaurs got extinct, the End Cretaceous, 65 million years ago. Experts claim that right now we are going through the sixth mass extinction event, the Holocene Extinction, the anthropogenic extinction. The arrogance of the only extant species of the genus Homo has caused widespread degradation of highly biodiverse habitats such as coral reefs and rainforests, amongst others. Accompanied by lack of serious documentation, the current rate of extinction of species is estimated at 100 to 1,000 times higher than natural background rates. Scientists at the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (2007) concluded that: “Every day, up to 150 species are lost.” The vicious cycle embedded in the modern day consumerism results in more and more over exploitation of natural resources. This vanity, often congenital, of the colonial scions with their zany dichotomous truncheons of ‘civilization’ resulted in the brazen eradication of the primitive denizens, humans or other species residing lower down in the evolutionary ladder, from their native habitats. The banished are the unwanted, the expendables, ousted, expelled, annihilated without a trace (or is there a trace lurking near the horizon after all). The wildlife harbours an unfathomable diversity of viruses, to which we get exposed, tiny fleeting moments to exposure but enough to catapult events of global scale. Reports are making rounds about viruses unknown hitherto to us, trapped in polar ice caps and the Tibetan glaciers can get released in the environment once the ice melts due to global warming. Yes, there can be pathogens amongst them too.
Coming back to Natural selection, life on Earth always had a pattern, chaotic or not. As the most suited will survive, constant evolution maintains that new kinds of life and new biomolecules appear (and disappear) periodically. This led to Harmit Malik, a chemical engineer turned molecular biologist turned molecular evolutionist based at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre at Seattle, remark that natural evolution is “the world’s definitive game of cat and mouse. Viruses evolve, the host adapts, proteins change, viruses evade them. It never ends”. The corona virus appears to be the ‘cat’ so far, that cannot be easily belled, an ideal opportunist. It is possible, that as a perfect survival strategy, this strain (or strains, as the experts suggest) has (or have) adapted to the new hosts, the humans unfortunately.
In the 2012 bestseller Spilllover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, writer David Quammen had apprehended this very phenomenon. Years of negligence takes away slightest traces of affordability of bequeathing the onus to our future generations. The futile needs of monetary consecration to attain the oxymoronic sacrosanct abode are nothing but the manifestation of the instinctive territoriality of the sapiens, and thus is a ludicrous self disculpation. The debonairs contemptuous of the inferior with racist, supremacist prejudices, political snollygosters with their ravenous wanton nympholepsy, are the catalysts to the apocalypse. As Paul Ehrlich had once quoted, “Homo Sapiens might not only be the agents of the sixth extinction but also risks being one of its victims”.
Through myopic vision and selective amnesia, we, the arrogant humans are banishing ourselves to the corridors of uncertainties, Covid-19 being a mere tool in the hands of Mother Nature.
Yes, the two hundred year old principles of Darwin on natural selection may yet again come to our rescue. Only if we can realise our position as just another species living on earth, not the owners. While searching for the elusive solution, instead of going for short termed illusive options, we shall not fail to understand the uterine relationship we hold with everything organic around us. As noted author Yuval Noah Harari had written in ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’, “We are more powerful than ever before, but have very little idea what to do with all that power. Worse still, humans seem to be more irresponsible than ever. Self-made gods with only the laws of physics to keep us company, we are accountable to no one. We are consequently wreaking havoc on our fellow animals and on the surrounding ecosystem, seeking little more than our own comfort and amusement, yet never finding satisfaction. Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied gods who don’t know what they want”?
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