We Have Not Confronted a Virus that Constitutes an Existential Threat to the Species — Yet
But eventually, we are likely to meet an emerging virus that comes close. The Zika virus, for example, is certainly not an existential threat to the human species as it exists now. Still, a threat to healthy human procreation such as the risk of microcephaly, is a potential existential threat to the particular populations at risk, if the link between fetal infection and subsequent microcephaly were to strengthen.
These problems tend to accompany microcephaly in infants and children:
Developmental delay, such as problems with speech or other developmental milestones (like sitting, standing, and walking)
Intellectual disability (decreased ability to learn and function in daily life)
Problems with movement and balance
Feeding problems, such as difficulty swallowing
You can see some potential problems for the human future, from this tangible — but so far limited — threat.
Zika came rapidly — almost “out of nowhere.” First identified in Uganda in 1947, Zika dropped under the radar until an outbreak on Yap in 2007. But it is over the past year that Zika has come into its own, and has become an object of global concern with the link to microcephaly and the Rio Olympics approaching.
A lot of other viruses can cause microcephaly and other severe birth defects. Infectious diseases — incuding viruses — can also cause infertility in males and females.
It is not necessary for a virus to kill all humans, or make them all infertile, to bring about human extinction. Lowering the average global human IQ by 40 points would quickly reduce the “carrying capacity” of Earth to a few million or less. And I thought the average human IQ was already dropping at a frightening pace.
Emerging viruses could annhilate not only human populations, but also the ecosystems upon which human life depends. Both animal and vegetable sources of food are vulnerable to viral attack, as are critical microbial supporters of plant and animal food production.
How Can Silkworms Save Humans from the Emerging Viral Onslaughts?
Advanced new virus-proof air and water filtration membranes made from silk protein nanofibrils, may help stop the spread of emerging viruses that have not even been discovered yet.
This discovery could portend new production methods and supply chain economics for anyone that uses the new filter membranes, including water treatment facilities, food manufacturers, and life sciences organizations…
… Whether purifying waste water for drinking, or capturing the minuteness of blood clots in the human body, these new silk-based membranes offer significant advanced operational efficiencies. And one piece of silk nanofibrils membrane averages only $0.05-$0.51 compared with $1.20 per piece of commercial filtration membrane.
… the new membrane’s rejection of protein and gold nanoparticles in flow was higher than that of membranes with similar thickness. Protein molecules, colloids, nanoparticles, small molecules, and ions were all used to assess size-selectivity.
… “What really surprised us,” says Jin, “is that one flux was faster than that of most commercial materials, in fact, more than 1,000 times higher in some cases.” The result proved better than fluxes of the most advanced ultrathin membranes.
___ MIT News
The new silk-based filters promise more affordable filtration of viruses and other particles from both air and water, at much lower costs — bringing them within reach of larger numbers of people. The article above mentions using them in “water treatment facilities, food manufacture, life sciences applications” etc.
But why not use them in ultra-thin condoms, gloves, face masks and respirators etc.? One could carry their own filtration drinking straw, for use with all beverages outside the home. As more food is grown indoors under LED lighting, water and air supplies can be more carefully filtered from the outer world.
It all sounds rather extreme — even hysterical — but we cannot judge the world of future emerging viruses based upon the world in which we currently live.
We Have Long Discussed the Idea of “The Fouling of the Commons”
Participants in the 1970 Earth Day celebration were predicting that by the year 2000, people would be dropping in the hundreds of millions from starvation, toxic air and water, and resource scarcity of all kinds. Looking back, it seems that they likely had hidden motivations for hyping public fears over population growth and technological innovation.
But we do all share the same atmosphere, the same oceans, the same international travelways. Crime and incivility have certainly followed migrants — along with a range of diseases — from Africa and Asia to Europe, causing quality of life to drop in many cities. The commons are slowly being fouled in multiple ways, and thanks to dysgenic birthrates, humans over most of the world are becoming less capable of dealing with emerging problems.
These days, emerging viruses can move around the world with startling speed. Most of them will be relatively harmless, but it is all too easy for humans to be blindsided by the unexpected. By the time we realise what has happened, it can be too late to alter the consequences.
Just as important as building border walls to keep out potentially violent, unassimilable, and dysfunctional immigrants, is the importance of learning to build multiple protections against the intentional and unintentional spread of threats of the biological and non-biological kinds.
Virucidal surface coatings provide another layer of broad-spectrum protection from unforeseen emergent microbes. Examples:
… and many more possibilities.
Advanced filtration membranes from silk proteins may become an important part of the protective shields we learn to devise against unanticipated threats. These and other such protective shields will need to be effective, relatively unobtrusive, inexpensive, easily implemented, easily and cleanly disposed of, and very broad spectrum in effect.
Consider growing your own silkworms, and learning to make your own nanofibril membranes. Such skills may prove useful on your next transcontinental jaunt. But remember: silkworms are also vulnerable to viral infection. Make sure they all wear their nanofibril micro-masks. 😉