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“We have given you, O Adam, no visage proper to yourself, nor endowment properly your own, in order that whatever place, whatever form, whatever gifts you may, with premeditation, select, these same you may have and possess through your own judgement and decision […] We have made you a creature neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal as the free and proud shaper of your own being, fashion yourself in the form you may prefer.”
Oration on the Dignity of Man – Giovanni Pico della Mirandola

Coronavirus arms race

published on 31.03.2020

Ecologists often speak of the Red Queen hypothesis, as a metaphor for describing certain evolutionary dynamics. The expression was extracted from Lewis Carroll’s novel, “Alice through the Looking Glass“, where Alice visits the country of the Red Queen, and discovers that you have to run there not to move around. This dynamics has been detected in the coevolution of many organisms, such as predator-prey, herbivore-plant or host-parasite, and consists of a parallel increase in fitness, to maintain the statu quo. A prey like the gazelle is getting faster, forcing a predator like the cheetah to develop more and more speed to adapt. The acacia develops long spikes to avoid herbivores, and the giraffe, in turn, protects itself with a very hard tongue. This dynamic can also be seen as an escalation or an arms race. Humans have followed it many times throughout history. Perhaps the best-known examples are the progressive increase in the size of warships, undertaken by the most powerful countries, just before World War I, or the increase in the nuclear arsenal maintained by the United States and the USSR during the Cold War.
Our relationship with viruses also follows this dynamic. The coronavirus is adapted to infect the cells of our respiratory system, and we defend ourselves with antibodies, either because we have acquired them after suffering the infection, or because we will be vaccinated. In the long run, however, we will lose immunity and revert to infection, or the virus will mutate and acquire the ability to overcome our immune system again. We have already observed this type of technical tie with the influenza virus, and we will probably end up establishing it with the coronavirus as well.
Humans and viruses will evolve, so as not to move around.

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