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Show 1234: How Microbes Evolve to Become Enemies or Allies

Dr. Paul Ewald describes how microbes evolve and interact with our immune systems to become more or less virulent.
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How Microbes Evolve to Become Enemies or Allies

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The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus behind COVID-19 is changing. This should not be a surprise, since microbes evolve by nature. What implications might this have for the infection in future months? We speak with an evolutionary biologist to see how his perspective can illuminate the pandemic.

How Do Microbes Evolve?

SARS-CoV-2 is a coronavirus that evolved initially in bats. How can microbes that have adapted to one species leap into a different species–say, from a bat to a pangolin or a human being? What sorts of changes will it make along the way? We consider other examples of microbes that have moved to new host species. What does this suggest about COVID-19? In addition, we’ll look at the interaction with our immune systems as microbes evolve.

Are Microbes the Hidden Cause of Some Chronic Diseases?

A number of chronic conditions that are difficult to treat may be traced in part to infection with certain microbes. Some doctors don’t believe patients suffer chronic Lyme disease. In this case, they recognize the pathogen, Borrelia burgdorferi, but no one has proven it causes the persistent health problem. On the other hand, many clinicians doubt that there are microbes behind chronic fatigue syndrome. Unfortunately, researchers have not yet identified them conclusively. Moreover, although scientists have demonstrated links between heart disease and oral microbes, few cardiologists test their patients for these germs.

Initially, we consider some important questions. How would microbes evolve from agents that cause acute illness to those that cause chronic disease? What role do our immune systems play in these developments? Furthermore, what does this mean for people recovering from COVID-19? We worry that when microbes evolve, some individuals may end up suffering long-haul coronavirus symptoms. Finally, how can evolutionary biology help us understand such issues more fruitfully?

This Week’s Guest:

Paul Ewald, PhD, is an evolutionary biologist, specializing in the evolutionary ecology of parasitism, evolutionary medicine, agonistic behavior, and pollination biology.
He is Professor of Biology at the University of Louisville, in Louisville, Kentucky. His books include Plague Time: The New Germ Theory of Disease and Evolution of Infectious Disease.

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available Monday, November 9, 2020, after broadcast on November 7. The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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