Thursday, August 20, 2015

Martin Henry Dawson : the "Roogy Batoon" of Antibiotics AND HGT Antibiotics Resistance

As a kid in the late 1950s I just loved the book entitled The Incompleat Pogo.

Particularly the chapter that involving a pelican called Roogy Batoon successfully peddling his cure for snake bites in a snake-free swamp ("Fortunately for you, I also brought some snakes").

That riposte, along with Harold Wilson's "a week's a long time --- in politics " appealed to the cynical side of my personality.

I didn't really expect to ever come across someone real with that much chutzpah but unexpectedly, I did.

And a nicer human being you could never meet.

Dr Martin Henry Dawson did not discover HGT, the genetic mechanism that spreads microbial resistance to antibiotics around the world like wildfire, nor did he discover Natural Penicillin, the first and the best ever antibiotic.

But unlike their discoverers, he didn't try to bury them - instead he devoted his whole life to promoting this forgotten pair to an extremely indifferent scientific community.

Dawson died tragically young, worn out by his efforts, but he lived just long to see patients' families (and eventually even the scientists !) take a shine to naturally-made penicillin.

Fifty years after his death, the world also began hearing about HGT.

HGT means horizontal gene transfer - the unique ability of the "stupidest" and "weakest"  lifeforms to mix and match useful genes from across the world's vast microbial gene pool, rather than being limited to what gene variants mom or dad might vertically throw down, as in the case of us humans.

This process does many many marvellous things for microbes.

But we humans only began to care about it when we realized that it causes all our expensive new antibiotics to become decidedly less useful, all around the world, in only a few years.

So aging and new Pogo fans everywhere :  think of (a) Natural Penicillin = snake bite cure and (b) HGT microbial resistance = snake bite ---- and try not to laugh at human hubris.

Because there is irony-on-steroids buried in this tale, somewhere....

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