From the editor's desk: Hardwired to survive, can we beat coronavirus in 2021?

January 2021 News

According to the Smithsonian, it was around four million years ago that our earliest ancestors broke the evolutionary mould and walked upright for the very first time. Over the course of the next few million years, these original bipeds evolved into a number of early hominoid species, most of which were wiped out by primal forces of nature – unimaginable drought, the devastating eruption of a super volcano in Southeast Asia, and the like.

Steven Meyer.

100 000 years ago, when all was said and done, two human species were left to compete for top spot in the evolutionary chain here on earth – Homo sapiens (modern humans), and the Neanderthals. Also large brained, and physically bigger and stronger than us, one would expect Neanderthals to have carried the day, on the grounds that they were better able to compete for the available food resources. But that is not what happened.

The evolutionary element that clinched it for Homo sapiens was an adaptation in our brains that combines complex planning with language and the ability to spread new ideas from one individual to another. So, although the bigger bodied Neanderthals were better able to hunt individually, we humans overcame the disadvantage of our frailty by hunting together in tribes. While the Neanderthals communicated in a series of primitive grunts, we chatted excitedly amongst ourselves around those early campfires, sharing all the latest ideas for making a sharper stone axe or a better balanced spear for throwing.

So, in AD2021, how will this help us defeat a microbe that none of us can even see? Well, much the same way that we outlasted the Neanderthals, actually. That small difference in our brains, which equipped us with a way to communicate effectively, allowed us to develop technologies that the Neanderthals simply could not match at the time. Not only that, but the ability to pass knowledge from one generation to the next created an unstoppable acceleration in the rate at which the sophistication of our technology progressed.

As I write this editorial at the end of 2020, the human race stands on the cusp of finding a vaccine that will neutralise the global threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. And yes, it isn’t yet a perfect solution. It only has a shelf life of a few days, and even that relies on storage at temperatures so low that distribution into rural Africa (say) does not look feasible. But it’s a start. And with our ability to solve complex problems, hopefully it won’t be too long before someone cracks the remaining difficulties and excitedly shares that idea around what has now become a global campfire.

Even though 2020 has been a horrible year, I feel optimistic about our chances for the future and hope you do too. As a species, we have overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges throughout our history – after all, it’s hardwired into our genes to do so. From the team at SA Instrumentation & Control, here’s wishing all our readers and advertisers a monumentally happy and prosperous 2021!


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