Tuesday, March 22, 2022

A Natural History of the Future

Predictions about the future are doomed to be wrong, and yet there are general concepts that we can learn about our past and present that can help us prepare for that uncertain future. Rob Dunn's A Natural History of the Future is a fantastic exploration of some basic tenets of ecology and evolution that can help guide our species to a more prosperous destiny.

Each chapter delves deeply into one important topic (e.g. the value of corridors for escaping threats, or under what conditions is more speciation likely to occur) and discusses why the topic is important, how it has impacted us in the past, and how with this knowledge we should behave in the future.

Even on topics on which I already knew a little bit (e.g. use of antibiotics kills off a lot of bacteria we actually need), I learned a lot of fascinating stuff. For example, bacteria that evolve to resist our antibiotics pay a penalty for that resistance in competition with non-resistant bacteria. In other words, there is a disadvantage to resistance (or the bacteria might have been resistant already) and as a result, when no antibiotics are present, it's the non-resistant bacteria that has the advantage. This has implications as far reaching as how chemotherapy should be applied to fight cancerous tumours. (Hint: give some time to the tumour cells that are not resistant to the chemo to grow at the expense of the resistant cells, thus tilting the odds of chemo success in favour of the patient!)

I highly recommend the book to anyone who might find this subject interesting.

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