On the dangers of the return of the AIDS virus, the anti-vaccine movements and the resistance of antibiotics He warned the Mexican biologist, Antonio Lazcano, one of the exponents featured in the recent version of Puerto de Ideas in Antofagasta, where he exhibited in the talk «Darwin under the microscope: cell evolution.»
«The best medicine is prevention and that requires campaigns from the promotion of vaccines to safe sex, which is something that everyone should take into account in a constant way,» said Lazcano in an interview with the counter.
Lazcano is dedicated to research and teaching on the origin and early evolution of life. He has been a visiting professor and researcher at renowned universities in Europe and America. He is the only Latin American scientist who has presided over the NASA Astrobiology Institute’s evaluation committee. In addition, he is the president of the International Society of the Study of the origins of Life and in October 2014 he joined the National College, the highest cultural institution in Mexico.
The return of AIDS
In the case of AIDS, the specialist coincided with the diagnosis that, as antiretrovirals currently prolong the life of the carriers, there has been a sort of «relaxation» in the prevention campaigns. According to official data of 2018, in Chile the confirmed contagions had increased by 96% between 2010-2017 and a report by Unaids last year warned that it is in one of the ten countries where more cases have increased, on par with Egypt , Madagascar, Macedonia and the Philippines.
«The problem is that people are still infected and there are already resistant strains. The issue is how they are contained to prevent them from resubmitting with a universal distribution. There you realize that it is a combination problem of strategy, the strategy of treatment, along with being developing prevention campaigns that have to be constant, «said Lazcano.
The problem is especially serious among young people. «No matter if they are Chilean students, Guatemalans or Mexicans, it is people who were born and knew well what HIV is and an impeccable knowledge of how to prevent it. And yet they continue to infect. »
Despite the effectiveness of antiretrovirals, Lazcano warned that the virus mutates all the time and not because it is perverse, but because it is inevitable. «In Mexico there is a children’s game called ‘ Broken Phone ‘, where I say a sentence to you and you tell someone else. It’s the rumor theory. This game can be done in an auditorium or in a classroom and is exactly the same as the AIDS virus, or hepatitis C. They are viruses that are constantly mutating and the best way is to prevent it. Getting people to have safe sex, ensuring that the blood we have in the banks is safe, ensuring a constant campaign, that caters to the needs of the youngest people, «he stressed.
Antobióticos in Environment
Other current problems for Lazcano include resistance to antibiotics, which are not found only in hospitals, but in the environment. According to a United Nations report released in late April, resistant infections cause today 700,000 deaths, which could rise to 10 million in 2050, so the UN made a report with recommendations to countries to curb the threat.
«There is a problem that we sometimes forget,» commented the Mexican. «Antibiotics are molecules or combinations of molecules. And these molecules can be applied to a patient. A part is going to be quickly used to fight a microorganism, but another part is discarded in the urine or when defecating. And it stays in the water and eventually ends up in the environment and also generates resistance, «he added.
«Then here we have a problem that is a mixture of the chemical stability of molecules and something that can last decades in the environment now causing the phenomenon of resistance in natural populations, although we do not use them for direct consumption us,» said .
Lazcano stressed that antibiotic resistance is a natural and non-anthropogenic process. The problem is antibiotic abuse. «At this moment we are being victims, humans, animals, plants, of a process of evolution that is relentless, which cannot be stopped, which is the transfer of genetic material that has made many pathogens resistant to antibiotics. Already WHO has said that it is one of the great risks that humanity is facing now, «he said.
«Bacteria have been exchanging genes since the beginning of life. Sometimes that change is between individuals of the same species, sometimes between groups or ‘ kingdoms ‘ very different, but it is a very old process. It is a process that-and we see that in our laboratory-we believe underlies the resistance to damage caused by oxygen. Antropocéntricamente we see oxygen as essential for life, but oxygen was one of the great contaminants when it began to accumulate in the atmosphere on Earth and the evolutionary success, reflected in the diversity of species, of some microbial groups, is It’s because they transferred the resistance mechanisms very quickly, «he explained.
Today there is antibiotic abuse. «What it has provoked is that this exchange of genes is given in a very intense way and the results are seen in intensive therapy or in the terror that the medical community has before diseases that could be solved very easily and not now,» he explained.
«A Mexican medical friend told me that there are cases of resistance to antibiotics in intensive therapy that occur in twenty minutes. In twenty minutes the bacterium becomes resistant and where the phenomenon is more clearly observed, it is in intensive therapy or critical medicine. So much so, that doctors are taking a number of measures that are very important, from the restriction of selling antibiotics to the replacement of aluminum instruments, in the case of England, by copper instrumental, «he said.
This phenomenon is also intensified by the antibiotics used in food production. «It’s a ‘ selection pressure ‘ that causes the genes to quickly disperse, to use a typical language of evolution,» he explained.
To explain what genetic transference is, Lazcano made an analogy with what happens in human language. «For example, I can get to a restaurant in Santiago and say I want a piece of pizza. Everybody understands what they’re talking about. The pizza, in fact, is a word of Neapolitan origin and quickly spread throughout the world. You use the word ‘ avocado ‘ for what we call ‘ avocado ‘ in Mexico. A derivative is used in English, ‘ avocado ‘. The word ‘ tomato ‘ has Aztec origin. I remember seeing in a Pizza Hut near Beijing a sign that said ‘ Good Pizza with a lot of tomato sauce ‘. That is a interesting example of horizontal transfer of terms, because it was a phrase in English in China and included a word of pre-Hispanic origin and another of European origin. And that transference was given and understood perfectly well, «exemplified.
«Well, bacteria, all microorganisms, may be receiving genes from different donors and those genes remain, because they have an adaptive value. For us, the antibiotic is a way of recovering health as part of a therapy. For bacteria is an element against, then transferring the gene that allows hydrolyse the antibiotic represents an adaptive advantage, «he said.
The biologist insisted that bacteria are not «smart». «Intelligence is clearly seen in the animal kingdom, in memory, which is reflected in a different way in a dog or the intelligence that one sees in birds, which are brillantísimos animals, and it is seen in us. Also in many other primates. But there is no intelligence in plants, there is no fungus able to solve an equation or an amoeba that can compose a quartet, «he insisted.
«What we see here is an evolutionary strategy that must be recognised as a perfectly natural phenomenon,» he summed up.
Alternative to antibiotics
But how to deal with this phenomenon? For Lazcano there are different strategies. «The first, which is very obvious, is to stop the indiscriminate use of antibiotics. It is something that the medical community is learning, that have taken very strict regulation measures. At the same time, it is funny how there are neighborhoods in Mexico City where there are markets in which one finds, and I am sure the same happens in Santiago or new York, the clandestine sale of antibiotics, which may be expired or be false. That’s a problem. The whole society should realize that it is essential to restrict the use of antibiotics. Just as we don’t let a child play with matches at a gas station, we should avoid using non-prescription antibiotics, and that already exists in many countries, «he said.
Secondly, the specialist believes that there has to be an agreement between the pharmacists and the governments to ensure that new antibiotics are going to continue to be sought. «Applied biomedical research is a very expensive process. Currently many pharmaceutical companies prefer to look for products to avoid hair loss or wrinkles because they are much more profitable, «he lamented.
Thirdly, it is necessary to avoid the use of antibiotics in food production for Lazcano. It is currently used in all types of hatcheries, whether from cows, pigs, hens and even salmon, such as those exported by Chile.
Fourth, the Mexican points to the development of other antimicrobials, such as copper. «I just saw an exhibition at the Museum of Natural history in London about antibiotic resistance, and there were the NuEvos hospital instruments, from door knobs to tables with copper instead of aluminum. The Etruscans used silver jugs to eat, not knowing that they killed the microorganisms, «exemplified.
«Measures as basic as washing your hands would prevent us from using antibiotics. A friend published a study in the Lancet, one of the great biomedical research, where he analyzed one of these medical programs that became fashionable a few years ago, type ‘ Doctor House ‘, and said that in any chapter the doctors had washed their hands » Told.
«There is a problem of education, of developing a collective consciousness and especially to ensure that some phenomena that are now becoming more common, such as medical tourism, of people who are going to operate in India because it is cheaper, keep in mind that is Certified the use of antibiotics, «he said.
Lazcano insisted that resistance to antibiotics is one of the great risks of public health, «and here I am quoting specialists from WHO. An English group did a devastating, but very interesting, analysis. The Economist published a summary version of the analysis. They examined from the economic costs to something that is very difficult to evaluate in terms of money, which is essential, the human cost, the population cost, of the resistance to the antibiotics. They managed to bring the issue to the United Nations plenary. I think that’s a reflection of the situation. »
Resistance, by the way, is not only given with bacteria: it can also be in other microorganisms, such as fungi. «Once the resistance is indirect: it can be of a organelle within a fungus or a single cell, as in the case of Candida Auris,» he said.
In April, the Chilean Society of Infectology (Sochinf) said that it found the first case of infection of Candida Auris in Chile, a fungus resistant to medicines.
Lazcano also warned that it is necessary to generate a conscience in society about some «fads», such as resistance to vaccines. «Vaccine resistance is one of the best allies for antibiotic resistance. WHO says one of the 10 global risks to public health is vaccine resistance, «he warned.
He said that in a recent public dialogue with the scientific Divulger, Martín Bonfil, in Mexico, the latter asked the audience how many there they knew someone who opposed to the shots, and between a third and half of the audience raised his hand. «That’s dangerous, a brutal risk,» he reiterated.
In his talk at Puerto de Ideas, Lazcano focused on microorganisms, which have been key to the shaping of the Earth’s atmosphere and the current biological diversity. «Basically, what I did was to talk about a mechanism that is very important in the evolution in general, and in particular of the microorganisms, which is the symbiosis,» he explained.
«One always thinks, and that is a caricature of Charles Darwin’s ideas, that individuals of a population are always competing with each other, the populations are confronted with each other, the species compete.» However, «That’s just a component actually. Darwin, who at the time underlined a great deal in this. »
At the beginning of the TWENTIETH century, it began to recognize the importance of symbiosis, which in the general sense is not the positive interaction, where an organism of a species works for the well-being of another species, but it establishes morphological correlations, physiological, ecological and molecular, among different species, according to the specialist.
«In the specific case of us humans, animals in general, cells with nucleus, which represent the forms of life that morphologically have diversified a lot, it is clear that we breathe, we do photosynthesis if we are lettuce or artichokes, thanks to That what once were bacteria of independent life, entered to live inside of another microorganism. And this process of symbiosis has defined in a very clear way the biosphere, «he said.
«For example, if we start from a plant of beans, one sees in the roots some splints that are actually colony of bacteria that are fixing nitrogen, and if those bacteria were not there, not only there would be no beans, but we would not be. I think that’s super important, because when you talk about evolution, everyone thinks of Dinosuarios or men Neanderthal, when in reality evolution is a dynamic process, which is permeating the entire biosphere, «he concluded.