Thoughts on 2020 (2) – coronavirus

Let’s hear it for the virus – a remarkable product of evolution by natural selection. A small chunk of RNA in a protein coat that has changed our lives dramatically, and ended many too. You have to admire it, or rather the process of evolution that has shaped it and made it so effective.

I’ve heard this virus, a tiny length of nucleic acid capable of replicating in cells, called many things. We personify it as clever and evil which is giving a length of RNA a considerably inflated personality and moral compass. But although the virus is not scheming against us, has no ambitions, has no plan up its non-existent sleeve, it is certainly deadly.

Viruses are remarkable, they don’t eat, they don’t breathe, they don’t do much until they get into an organism in which they can replicate, and then they replicate. But a replicating virus is on an evolutionary road to nowhere unless it has a mechanism of getting from one host to another. Viruses don’t have wings, they can’t swim and they don’t have legs – their movement from host to host is dependent on the behaviour of their host (or hosts). That’s us. We facilitate the transmission of the virus, not the virus.

We would do well to reflect on the power of nature and if we learn anything from all this (which I hope we will, but the signs are not good) part of that greater awareness should be that physics, chemistry and biology are not just ‘different ways of looking at reality’ but they are the most powerful ways of looking at reality in order to understand how the world is. That’s quite a good foundation upon which to reflect on our plaace in the world.

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5 Replies to “Thoughts on 2020 (2) – coronavirus”

  1. It would certainly be great if those who govern us could achieve greater awareness of basic ecology. The realisation that airy promises to improve the status of biodiversity are not consistent with stating in the next breath that we need to get rid of 'newt counting delays' in our planning system and must 'build build build'.

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    1. I suspect the failure of our politicians to grasp the reality of the sciences is as fairly near complete as possible as evidenced by many of them disliking "experts." That many of us do not share their "reality" must be a cause for hope.
      What the covid virus shows and other viruses have shown before is that to ignore biological reality or taking cognisance of the risks it may pose is the road to disaster. However it seems that we do not learn this lesson well or for very long.

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  2. The Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has been framed as a global public health and economic crisis. This is, in my opinion, entirely wrong.

    Given its origins, it is undoubtedly a biodiversity crisis. The consequences of which, in this instance, are being played out in the public health and economic arena. These are the symptoms; not the crisis per se, in my opinion.

    And so as we transition from the transition period in 12 hours time, it is worth reflecting that given the increased vulnerabilities to the UK's environmental legal framework to Government whims and metaphorical axes as we 'seize back control' from an imagined continental European thief, who's to say there isn't a different protein coated RNA lurking in an upland English peat bog, or saltmarsh, or ancient woodland? Possibly unlikely given the differences in biodiversity with tropical climes; but not completely beyond the realms of possibilities?

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    1. Richard - thanks for that and thanks for all your comments (and guest blog) here in 2020. Best wishes for 2021!

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