“Destroying our immune system..”

DUP MLA, Iris Robinson, who chairs the Assembly’s Health Committee, appeared on Stormont Live today only to talk about the Health Minister’s announcement on prescription charges. But the notable part of the interview was her interesting, if un-scientific, view of the problems caused by the over-proscribing of antibiotics [1min 40secs in]

“We’re not handing out antibiotics the way we used to, and I’m glad of that, because we’re destroying our immune system[‘s ability] to face up to other difficult bugs around.”

Of course, it’s probably entirely coincidental that the actual explanation of the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections involves the process of evolution – as explained in this 1995 article in the US Food and Drug Administration’s magazine.

The increased prevalence of antibiotic resistance is an outcome of evolution. Any population of organisms, bacteria included, naturally includes variants with unusual traits–in this case, the ability to withstand an antibiotic’s attack on a microbe. When a person takes an antibiotic, the drug kills the defenseless bacteria, leaving behind–or “selecting,” in biological terms–those that can resist it. These renegade bacteria then multiply, increasing their numbers a millionfold in a day, becoming the predominant microorganism.

ANYhoo.. here’s the interview..

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  • joeCanuck

    hehehehe.
    Nice one Pete.

  • McGrath

    Considering the environment minister doesnt understand environmental issues, its no surprise that the health minister doesnt understand health issues either.

    Do these people not take scientific advice? Or maybe they do, but its advice of their own liking.

    Maybe these ministers are just thick?

  • ggn

    If I say that Iris reminds me of country and western (Irish / ulster variety), does that make me a bigot?

    Not the brightest, but local politicans dont seem to be.

    Plan B I say!

  • interested

    Pete,
    “it’s probably entirely coincidental that the actual explanation of the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections involves the process of evolution”

    Without wishing to stray off topic, the process which brings rise to resistance, as the article istelf states, is ‘survival of the fittest’, not evolution. Survival of the fittest, or natural selection clearly exists and can be seen and measured. Evolution however relies on that natural selection to result in an increase in genetic material and complexity, ultimately producing an entirely different species.

    Unfortunately, however many times those bacteria mutate and positively select ones which are resistant to an antibiotic, they’re still bacteria and not some more advanced organism. They’re slightly different bacteria, but still bacteria.

    Its like the old one you learnt at school where the white moths disappeared after the industrial revolution because the black ones were hidden amongst the soot stuck to the trees, and after the pollution disappeared the white ones re-emerged and became the predominent variety. They were still moths though and no matter how many times one was selected over the other there was no increase in complexity or genetic material which evolution relies on.

    Given that bacteria can multiply thousands of times more quickly than mammals for example you’d think that evolution at some level could be proven. However, at no time in the countless millions of generations of bacterial reproduction that have been scientifically witnessed since the theory of evolution was put forward, has there been any evidence of that taking place. Hence we still have a theory and not a law.

    Unfortunately evolution is so unchallenged that even scientific authorities seem to use the shorthand now and evolution to describe the process of natural selection.

    Her phrasiology simply seems to be a laymans description of preventing antibiotic resistance.

  • Oilifear

    “…her interesting, if un-scientific, view of the problems caused by the over-proscribing of antibiotics…”

    Ah, now. I think you’re being unfair. Or pedantic. Probably, both.

  • Pete Baker

    interested

    Don’t start me on what a scientific theory actually is.

    And don’t try that “evolution is so unchallenged” rubbish. It’s been challenged since the very first time it was mentioned in public. And has always survived those challenges. That’s why it’s now a scientific theory.

    My initial draft quoted the article’s “outcome of evolution” line, but I decided it didn’t scan sufficiently – and instead used natural selection as the basis for “the process of evolution”.

    I didn’t have you down as an anti-evolutionist. But it takes all sorts, I guess.

    I should possibly have used the Wiki quote.

    Antibiotic resistance evolves naturally via natural selection acting upon random mutation, but it can also be engineered by applying an evolutionary stress on a population.

    “Her phrasiology simply seems to be a laymans description of preventing antibiotic resistance.”

    Her focus on not “destroying our immune system” entirely mis-understands how antibiotic resistance arises. Don’t go blaming the layman!

  • interested

    You didn’t have me down as anti-evolution, but I did have you down as particularly precious… The simple point about the Theory of evolution is that its still not proven. As much as people mighn’t like it, there isn’t firm proof.

    “Antibiotic resistance evolves naturally via natural selection acting upon random mutation”

    Just because the word ‘evolves’ is used in that sentence doesn’t mean there’s evolution in play. Evolves is simply used in place of ‘occurs’ there.

    “but it can also be engineered by applying an evolutionary stress on a population.”

    And an ‘evolutionary stress’ doesn’t imply evolution either, simply that something is introduced which will force natural selection to occur. Either way, antibiotic resistance isn’t a result of evolution nor a demonstration of it. Its down to natural selection – hence the point that at no point in the process do the bacteria ever become more complex. Genetic material is not produced and at the end they’re still plain old bacteria.

    I’d be happy if someone could point me towards an example where mutations or natural selection has actually resulted in an organism becoming more comlex. The unfortunate reality is that mutations always either make no difference to complexity, or they’re destructive and the latter is usually far more common.

    Her phrasiology was laymans language – and not the best in the world then we’re down to a fair degree of pedantry. It didn’t display the degree of scientific knowledge that I’d like but frankly we could fill a book with politicians on all sides doing that.

    Wouldn’t it be great if we elected politicans who could call up Wikiquote from memory though….. And that’s a point to myself as much as anyone else. We’re all great warriors here when we can do a quick google to back us up and when we can do a quick scan of our post before we hit the button.

    Not sure I’d do much better with the camera lights on me…..

  • McGrath

    Interested:

    I’d be happy if someone could point me towards an example where mutations or natural selection has actually resulted in an organism becoming more comlex.

    Humans. Or are you saying that prehistoric man was as equally complex as modern humans, say for instance in terms of motor skills, learning ability, logic, political thought etc?

  • Fraggle

    interested, if you really are interested, look up the e.coli/citrate experiment.

  • McGrath

    Interested:

    Wouldn’t it be great if we elected politicans who could call up Wikiquote from memory though

    It would be even better if they would refrain from making statements not based on widely accepted scientific opinion.

  • Steve

    Wait I get what interested is saying

    the bacteria instead of evolving into antibiotic bacteria should have leapt clear of the petri dish as say something like Grasshoppers

    Makes perfect sense

    …… not

  • interested

    McGrath
    “Humans. Or are you saying that prehistoric man was as equally complex as modern humans,”

    Genetically, yes.

    “instance in terms of motor skills”

    So you’re saying that hunting so you and your family can eat tonight takes less motor skills than sitting at your desk all day and nipping down to the sandwich shop for lunch?

    “learning ability, logic, political thought etc?”

    Yet more pejoritive language. Its not too far away from suggesting that people living in sub-saharan Africa are ‘different’ to us because they’re involved in subsistence agriculture and don’t play the stockmarkets etc.

    I don’t believe I’m any more or less ‘human’ than someone who’s more or less intelligent than me, or who has worse or better motor skills than me, or who has better or worse logic than me. We’re still humans or the same complexity and ability.

    Possibly humans from a few thousand years ago didn’t exploit the potential of their abiliities in some respects as well as we do today, but its also undoubtedly true that they exploited other parts of their/our make-up better and that doesn’t mean we’ve regressed genetically or that somehow evolution is working in reverse does it?

  • interested

    steve
    “the bacteria instead of evolving into antibiotic bacteria should have leapt clear of the petri dish as say something like Grasshoppers”

    If deliberate mis-representation and exaggeration of an argument makes it easier for you to dismiss it then you need to examine yourself…

    I mentioned increase in complexity, not hopping (pardon the pun) about 15 steps up the evolutionary chain in one go.

  • McGrath

    Posted by interested on Sep 29, 2008 @ 10:24 PM

    It all depends on how far back you want to go, take for example walking on two legs. Do you think very early man was sitting around his arse because he just couldn’t figure out how to walk?

  • McGrath

    *on his arse*

  • interested

    “Do you think very early man was sitting around his arse because he just couldn’t figure out how to walk?”

    I could continue this “argument” further, but the short answer to that question is NO.

    I don’t believe that man evolved eventually out of some primeval soup so therefore didn’t have to learn to walk.

    Nor do I believe that if I’m on the plant long enough that we’ll all evolve into superbeings with massively better skills than we have now and be able to turn the telly over using only the power of our mind…

  • Steve

    Iterested

    I don’t think watching telly and evolving your brain are copisetic in any way, infact one would seem to be the anethma to the other

  • interested

    “I don’t think watching telly and evolving your brain are copisetic in any way, infact one would seem to be the anethma to the other”

    Fair point well made…..

  • ciaran

    surely as a good god fearing christan who believes in the creation of man(and women) by god , there is no place in iris’s world for talk of evolution.Or Gay’s for that matter.( maybe she has the name of a good psychiatrist who can convince our immune systems that they can work)

  • joeCanuck

    Interested,

    There is no such thing as a “proven” theory of anything. Just the best explanation we have to date until something better comes along. See Newton and Einstein. Even Einstein didn’t believe his theories were the last word. Those infinities spoil everything.

  • pauljames

    Interested,
    Creationist flim flam I’m afraid.

    “Scientists most often use the word “fact” to describe an observation. But scientists can also use fact to mean something that has been tested or observed so many times that there is no longer a compelling reason to keep testing or looking for examples. The occurrence of evolution in this sense is fact. Scientists no longer question whether descent with modification occurred because the evidence is so strong.”
    The National Academy of Science (U.S.)
    Some mutations add information to a genome; some subtract it. Evolution is a fact and a Theory, just like Gravity.

  • villager

    Pete, this is pretty petty stuff. Iris Robinson is a dinosaur, but when she says antibiotics destroy our immune system, she’s being pretty accurate, if a little simplistic given the need for brevity. If you were in her position, you wouldnt have regurgitated large chunks of wikipedia entries.

  • McGrath

    when she says antibiotics destroy our immune system, she’s being pretty accurate.

    Posted by villager on Sep 30, 2008 @ 02:37 AM

    You are not serious are you? Where in all accepted medical understanding does it say that?

  • Sam Graham

    Interested,

    You are wasting your time arguing with Pauljames and Pete Baker et al on this subject. They do not have the necessary breadth in logic and vocabulary to understand the distinction between natural selection and evolution between one species group to another. They are the reason that most modern lawyers shudder when we have jury trials in complex financial cases.

    They also have completely swallowed the evolutionary fairy tale as their religious faith and you cannot shake them with facts. Unfortunately, their faith allows them to always gazuump you by simply adding a few more billion years to their sums and equations which effectively means that in our lifetimes none of their claims can be falsifiable. They have blind faith in their stories no matter what you argue. It is like arguing with a bunch of Mormon missionaries on your door step.

    Can you imagine any other cult get away with a statement like “Scientists no longer question whether descent with modification occurred because the evidence is so strong” when they cannot even posit one clear proven example of this apart from bacteria mutate when blasted with antibiotics!

  • pacman

    “They have blind faith in their stories no matter what you argue”

    Pot, Kettle and Black?

  • villager

    Ok, from wikipedia ; “An immune system is a collection of mechanisms within an organism that protects against disease.”

    Abusing antibiotics can remove that protection against disease, thereby destroying our immune system. Simple.

    By the way I’m an evolutionist and an atheist, I’m not defending Iris on her general views on science and religion, or pretty much anything for that matter, but this is a manufactured controversy.

  • Shore Road Resident

    This is wilful ignorance by the god-botherers.
    Speciation is a gradual process, as can be demonstrated with living organisms let alone through the fossil record. It is perfectly compatible with natural selection and increasing genetic complexity – although there is no requirement for increasing complexity in speciation as such.
    But you all know that. You’re just blowing stupid smoke for Jesus.

  • McGrath

    Abusing antibiotics can remove that protection against disease, thereby destroying our immune system. Simple.

    Posted by villager on Sep 30, 2008 @ 02:14 PM

    Abuse of antibiotics can result in the development of antibiotic resistance, meaning infections caused by organisms that where once easily treated with common low cost antibiotics do not clear as easily. This is because residual infecting organisms “adapt” to become more resistant to the original antibiotic.

    However, your original immune system remains largely the same (autoimmunity is a different thing), but is now susceptible to adapted infecting organisms which may require a different treatment.

    Antibiotic abuse does not remove a protection against a disease (infection), it changes the nature of the infecting organisms, or creates new types of infections of you want to think about it that way.

    Whats the minister for health has stated is incorrect, and is a common hysterical misconception. One would think a minister for health would know better.

    What Pete is getting at is the “adaptation” of infecting organisms is evidence of evolution, with the irony being it was referred to by a religious fundamentalist.

  • McGrath

    Posted by Sam Graham on Sep 30, 2008 @ 08:06 AM

    Typical fundamentalist rubbish. Rather that address the issue you resort to questioning validity’s.

    Your reference to “modern lawyers” has absolutely no relevance to the topic and admitting to arguing with Mormons on your doorstep is a good indicator of the condition of your mental health.