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Biosphere Technology in the Nuclear Age (www.mohdpeterdavis.com)

Biosphere Technology in the Nuclear Age (www.mohdpeterdavis.com)

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Published by Mohd Peter Davis
Nuclear power for energy production is undergoing a welcome renais¬sance as country after country announces plans to build nuclear power stations. This marks a return to the sci¬ence and sanity of the post-World War II era of my youth. I am now able put my own late 1950s to late 1970s experience as a budding scientist into much better perspective, by diligently studying, over the last four years, the outstanding intel¬lectual material in the weekly magazine and quarterly science journal published by the movement founded by American statesman and physical economist, Lyndon LaRouche, a political follower of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Please visit www.mohdpeterdavis.blogspot.com for more information.
Nuclear power for energy production is undergoing a welcome renais¬sance as country after country announces plans to build nuclear power stations. This marks a return to the sci¬ence and sanity of the post-World War II era of my youth. I am now able put my own late 1950s to late 1970s experience as a budding scientist into much better perspective, by diligently studying, over the last four years, the outstanding intel¬lectual material in the weekly magazine and quarterly science journal published by the movement founded by American statesman and physical economist, Lyndon LaRouche, a political follower of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Please visit www.mohdpeterdavis.blogspot.com for more information.

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Published by: Mohd Peter Davis on Apr 28, 2009
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N
uclear power for energy productionis undergoing a welcome renais-sance as country after countryannounces plans to build nuclear powerstations. This marks a return to the sci-ence and sanity of the post-World War IIera of my youth. I am now able put myown late 1950s to late 1970s experienceas a budding scientist into much betterperspective, by diligently studying, overthe last four years, the outstanding intel-lectual material in the weekly magazineand quarterly science journal publishedby the movement founded by Americanstatesman and physical economist,Lyndon LaRouche, a political follower of Presidents Abraham Lincoln andFranklin D. Roosevelt.
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My generation grew up not only withthe horror of nuclear weapons, but alsowith the optimism of nuclear power. Asyouth we were inspired by Atoms forPeace and Nuplexes (nuclear-poweredindustrial complexes) which heraldedabundant supplies of cheap electricityfor domestic and agro-industrial use, andunlimited desalinated water for theGreen Revolution in agriculture to feedthe world and green the deserts. Scienceand technology further dominated theworld with air travel, space exploration,DDT, penicillin, and polio vaccines.There seemed nothing that science couldnot handle to make the world a betterplace for all human beings on Earth.I embraced this scientific optimism andwas inspired in particular by a sciencebook which proved that life could notexist on our nearby planets, given theirprevailing physical and chemical condi-tions.
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This began a lifelong interest in theevolution of life on Earth and potentiallyother planets in the universe. At 16 yearsof age, I was recruited from school to thenearby Pfizer research laboratories, partof an ultra-modern terramycin antibioticfactory in Sandwich, England, which hadbeen recently built by the American par-ent company. The pay, the working con-ditions, the five-day week, the five-weekChristmas bonus, and the opportunity forfurther education while working, werelight years ahead of any other job I couldhave gotten in my economicallydepressed part of England (I now knowthat this was all part of the Americanpostwar efforts to rebuild and remoralizeEurope, based on the advanced industri-alization that took place in Americaunder President Franklin Roosevelt dur-ing World War II).Terramycin was one of the second-generation antibiotics, and followed thespectacular medical and entrepreneurialsuccess of penicillin, the miracle drugwhich dramatically cured a wide rangeof bacterial diseases that had afflictedhumans throughout history. By 19 yearsof age, I was part of a pioneer researchteam combatting viruses, the next greatmission for medical research, designingthe biological methods for mass screen-ing old and new organic compounds aspotential new drugs against viruses.
Virus Theory of Evolution
By the age of 26, after moving toAustralia, and after years of struggling toreconcile the great wealth of new exper-imental findings with the prevailing con-cept of viruses, I began to break out anddevelop a virus theory of evolution.
3
Icould see that there was circumstantialevidence coming out of the world’s lab-oratories that viruses were the agents for86Fall-Winter 2006
21st CENTURY
SCIENCE OUTLOOK
Biosphere TechnologyIn the Nuclear Age
by Mohd Peter Davis
SCIENCE OUTLOOK
ORNL
A1969 design for a nuplex, an agro-industrial complex powered by two 1,000-megawatt nuclear reactors, which would produce electricity for local residents and industry, and desalinate 1billion gallons of seawater per day. Inset: Peter Davis in February 1969 was a fresh 26-year-old biochemist and had just completed a 4-month overland journey from England to Australia with his brother  John. “With just £900 between us for the entire trip, we experienced firsthand the harsh realities of the Third World coun-tries. However, I was entirely optimisticthat most of the Medieval poverty, diseases and hardship we had wit-nessed could be solved or greatly alleviated withasensible application of the scienceand technology had been taught and the grand science missions I knew were in the pipeline.” 
Courtesy of Mohd Peter Davis
 
transferring genes between species. Isaw viruses as travelling genes, con-temptuously ignoring the species barrierwhich kept the genetic material tightlyguarded within each individual species.In my mind’s eye I could see virusesswapping genes between the species asthe driving force of evolution.The exciting new field of genetic engi-neering was really not so new after all, butthe brilliant technological exploitation of a process which had been occurring onEarth for perhaps billions of years. Viraltransfer of genes, rather than the olddogma of random point mutations,explained why a bacterium couldbecome multiply resistant to penicillinand to many other new antibiotics soonafter they came into general medical use.The problem with this quite simple virusconcept was the preoccupation in the sci-entific and medical community withanother concept, which regarded virusesas agents of diseases such as polio, whichhad caused so much death and sufferingto children. There was an underlyinghatred of viruses, and a determination towipe them off the face of the Earth.Viruses were seen as non-living alieninvaders and lethal enemies of the cell.However, this head-on, warlikeapproach to viruses, which had been sosuccessful against bacteria and tropicaldiseases like malaria, was doomed. Theevidence was piling up that viruses werenormal and natural residents of everycell. They were not aliens; theybelonged in cells, even though theywent visiting extremely frequently. Toeliminate viruses would require theextermination of all life on Earth. Virusesas agents of disease was secondary to amuch more fundamental and essentialrole in the evolutionary process.
The Unity of Life
Life on Earth was not really a hierarchyas we had been taught. All the millions of species of animals, plants, insects, andmicroorganisms were interconnected bya wide range of discrete viruses. Allspecies were equal but some were morecomplex than others. Beneath thetremendous visual diversity of speciesthat so awed the early naturalists, thereexisted at the subcellular level an amaz-ingly similar biochemistry (my chosenfield of study). Indeed, at the subcellularlevel, all species are broadly identical:The internal organs of the cell are simi-lar; they share the same biochemicalpathways, almost identical enzymes, andthey reproduce DNA, RNA, and proteinsin virtually identical ways.The general conclusion from experi-mental biochemistry and genetics is thatonce we get inside the cell, all cells arebasically the same. The biochemistry of the much-studied bacterium
E.coli 
tellsus the essentials about the general house-keeping of each cell in all the other mil-lions of different species on Earth. Myvirus theory of evolution explained howthis similarity came about. It was the con-sequence of the constant spreading andsharing of genetic material by virusesthroughout the millions of species.What was driving life to adapt to theever-changing Earth was not so muchthe slow natural selection of point muta-tions caused by crude chemical andphysical forces in the external environ-ment, but the everyday, healthy activityof the viruses as a natural part of everyliving cell, reproducing, escaping fromthe host cell and spreading to other cellsand other species. Each species was notan island unto itself, but a part of a com-plex web of living matter on Earth con-sisting of millions of distinct species, allgenetically interconnected by a wideassortment of viruses.What an advantage this gives to allspecies! Consider new genetic materialoriginating in a single cell of a singlespecies; a rare mutant gene (coding per-haps for a novel enzyme to break downthe penicillin molecule), or a new clusterof existing genes (coding perhaps for anew biochemical pathway capable of extracting energy by metabolizing a newchemical in the environment). The newgenes along with the essential viral genesget packaged into hundreds of daughtervirus particles, which escape from thehost cell, spreading to neighboring cellsand potentially, by innumerable hops viaother viruses, to all other species on Earth,and ending up integrated into nuclearDNApassed on to the next generation.The process might be complex, butthe idea was simple. New genetic infor-mation is acquired, not directly from theenvironment, but from other living cells.Thus, a new genetic invention by onecell gets multiplied, transmitted, andSCIENCE OUTLOOK
21st CENTURY
Fall-Winter 200687
Courtesy of Mohd Peter Davis
Honeycomb thermal comfort housing, a new Malaysian invention by Architect Mazlin Ghazali (right) and Mohd Peter Davis, will allow nature and modern agriculture and industry to be integrated into nuclear-powered cities built along the routes of the Eurasian Land-bridge, long proposed by the LaRouche movement.
 
tested throughout the living world. Newgenes or combinations of genes arespread by viruses in a complicated waymuch like new ideas spread throughoutthe human population.
Recovery fromEnvironmental Catastrophe
The living matter on Earth canrespond to a changed environment,both locally and globally, with incredi-ble speed. Life on Earth is able to recov-er almost instantly from environmentaloutrages, including, for instance, ourcompletely novel man-made antibiotics,or, on the larger scale, the quite frequentmeteorites and ice ages which, accord-ing to the fossil evidence, have causednumerous mass extinctions of speciesover the last few billion years.The everyday activity of viruses, com-bined with the great overproduction ateach generation, generates a continualsupply of new species. Under stable envi-ronmental conditions, the new speciesrarely get a foothold and are wiped out bynatural selection. However, with an envi-ronmental change or catastrophe, thecompetition from existing species is great-ly diminished, and the new freak speciesget their opportunity to blossom.Following a natural catastrophe suchas a meteorite collision with Earth, or anice age which can exterminate most of planetary life, the Earth is very quicklyrepopulated with a dazzling array of oldand new species. The fossil scientistshave termed this process—where longperiods of species stability are interrupt-ed by a global catastrophe, followed bythe dramatic emergence of totally newspecies—as punctuated evolution.Of course, there is almost no differencein the biochemistry and genetics of the setof species before and after the catastro-phe; the two sets just look different, likethe caterpillar turning into a butterfly. Lifeon the planet can take an extremely heavydepopulation, and even a loss of, say, half of the species, but simply shudders for theduration, and eventually marches on witha mixture of old and new species, as if nothing had happened. Thus, life on Earthhas a tremendous resilience and continu-ity, and has survived every catastrophe forperhaps 4 billion years.Now stand back from this intellectualdiscourse on viruses and evolution, andobserve a quite ordinary 16-year-oldboy maturing into professional adult-hood and challenging scientific ortho-doxy. This is creativity. Youth in general,if given an intellectual and experimentalworking environment like the one I wasgiven, and provided they are willing towork hard and study well, quite natural-ly become very creative and can truth-fully challenge deeply held beliefs, fun-damentally changing the way we thinkabout the world. This natural humancreativity comes not from special peo-ple, but from special conditions which agood society must provide to guaranteeits own well-being and future survival.
The Dark Side
I soon realized, with my enlightenedview of viruses, that their dark side was farmore dangerous than we had ever sus-pected. It still gives me nightmares. I wasworking in Australia alongside the scien-tists responsible for the biological controlof rabbits using myxovirus. Rabbits whowere innocently introduced in the1850s, had gone wild and com-pletely overrun Australia, eating outthe continent and threatening thesheep and cattle industries onwhich Australia’s well-beingdepended.My fellow CSIRO (Common-wealth Scientific and IndustrialResearch Organization) scientiststold me that in the 1950s, myxo-matosis wiped out 600 million rab-bits, 99 percent of the rabbits inAustralia. The CSIRO biologicalcontrol program had rescued thewool and meat industries and wasa national institutional hero.CSIRO was proud of its achieve-ment, but I was horrified, and start-ed to ring the alarm bells: Whatwas stopping a species-specificvirus from similarly wiping out 99percent of humans?I dug around and discovered thatthe 1918 influenza pandemic (theSpanish flu) had killed 20 millionhuman beings, some now say 100million,
4
when the world popula-tion was one third of today’s.Clearly, viruses serve to naturallycontrol “overpopulation,” main-taining the diversity of species andpreventing any species from over-running a territory. As the out-of-control rabbit population inAustralia demonstrated, it was just amatter of time. Avirus with mutatedgenes or a new combination of existing orrecombinated genes would sooner or lateremerge, and with surgical precision, wipeout the overpopulated species withouttouching the other species.This new understanding of the viru-lence of viruses was shocking in view of the huge increase in the human popula-tion made possible by modern agricultureand industrialization. Since any dreamsof eradicating viruses were now foolish,we were obliged to stay one jump aheadwith vaccines, drugs, public health meas-ures, and better ways of living.We could no longer tolerate the masspoverty and unhygienic living I had wit-nessed in my overland journey fromEngland to Australia on a very tight budg-et, seeing how the “other half” lived:Fellow human beings in the gutter; all theproblems of poverty quite solvable with asensible application of existing science88Fall-Winter 2006
21st CENTURY
SCIENCE OUTLOOK
Australasian Pastoralist’s Review,
from the Loir Collection,Adolph Basser Library, Australian Academy of Science
In this 1893 cartoon, Australia’s rabbit king is flanked by two banners, “King Bunny for ever” and “We hold the land.” The rabbit population explosion, decimated ground cover, leading to the demise of many native species and the destruction of cropland. It was the virus used to kill 600 million rabbits in the 1950s that gave this author food for thought about the potential dangers of viruses.

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