We do this when we use antibiotics, pesticides, herbicides and any other “-side” in our homes, hospitals, backyards, farms and even in some cases, forests. And the effect is always predictable.
Recently, Michael Beam and colleagues at Harvard University created a giant Petri plate, or “megaplate,” divided into a series of columns. Then, Beam added agar, which is both food and habitat for germs. The outer column on each side of the megaplate has agar and nothing more. Moving inward, each subsequent column was equipped with a higher concentration of antibiotics. The beam then releases bacteria on both ends of the megaplate to test whether they will develop antibiotic resistance.
The bacteria did not have a gene that provided antibiotic resistance; They entered the megaplate, vulnerable like sheep. And if agar is a pasture for these bacteria “sheep”, antibiotics were wolves. The experiment mimicked the way antibiotics are used to control disease-causing bacteria in our bodies. It mimics the way we use herbicides to control weeds on our lawns. It mimics every way we try to capture nature as it flows through our lives.
The law of natural selection predicts that as long as genetic mutations occur, through mutations, bacteria will eventually be able to develop resistance to antibiotics. But it can take years or more. This can take so long that the bacteria will run out of food before they develop the ability to spread to the wolf-filled columns with antibiotics.
It didn’t take years. It takes 10 or 12 days.
Beam repeated the test repeatedly. It played the same every time. The bacterium completes the first column and then briefly slows down, developing resistance to the highest concentration of antibiotics before and after several generations. This continues until resistance to the maximum concentration of antibiotics of several generations is formed and poured into the last column, such as over water.
As the speed increased, Beam’s test was terrible. This is also beautiful. Bacteria have such horrors that they can go from immortal to immortal, subject to our energy. Its beauty lies in the predictability of experimental results due to an understanding of the laws of natural selection. This prediction allows for two things: it lets us know when resistance can be expected to develop, whether it is bacteria, bedbugs or any other group of organisms; This allows us to manage the river of life so that resistance is less likely to evolve. Understanding the laws of natural selection is key to human health and well-being and, to be honest, the survival of our species.
There are other biological laws of nature with similar consequences. Species law regulates how many species live on a particular island or habitat as a function of its size. This law allows us to predict where and when species will become extinct, but where and when they will re-emerge. The law of the corridor regulates which species will migrate in the future as climate change and how. The law of escape describes how species thrive when they are protected from insects and parasites. Escape is responsible for some of the successes of humans over other species and how we have been able to achieve such extraordinary abundance over other species. The law creates some of the challenges that we will face in the years to come when we are less likely to escape (insects, parasites and the like). The law of the niche regulates where species, including humans, can live and where we may be able to live successfully in the future due to climate change.