Yellow Fever, Black Goddess: The Coevolution of People and Plagues

By Christopher Wills | Go to book overview

11
Safety in diversity

Motley's the only wear.

Jaques, in Shakespeare's As You Like It.

Consider the AIDS viruses once again, and their fierce struggle against the immune system of each person they infect. Much of that viral evolution appears to be a response to the fresh challenge that each victim poses. Host diversity is a barrier to the spread of the disease, a barrier that can only be overcome with great difficulty. Indeed, some people, to judge from Francis Plummer's discovery of the antibody‐ negative Kenyan prostitutes, seem to be completely resistant to attack by the virus. Why should there be so much diversity among us, and what does this tell us about the way that we have evolved along with our diseases?

In addressing these questions we will confront the most astonishing story of all. So far in this book we have dealt with day-to-day skirmishes between ourselves and our diseases. It is now time to back away and look at the whole battlefield. We will discover an endless war that has shaped not just the diversity of our own species but that of the entire living world.

A few years ago, the immunologist Douglas Green and I began to wonder about the evolutionary consequences of diseases. Our thinking led us through a maze of possibilities, and down quite a few garden paths. But gradually a fascinating pattern began to emerge. Disease resistance and susceptibility in our species is incredibly complicated, and many different genes are involved. None of us, luckily, is susceptible

-254-

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Yellow Fever, Black Goddess: The Coevolution of People and Plagues
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Figures *
  • Author's Note xi
  • Part One - The Anatomy of Plagues *
  • 1 - The Delicate Balance between Life and Death 3
  • 2 - The Penumbra of Disease 29
  • 3 - The Worst of Times 37
  • Part Two - Chief Monster That Hast Plagued the Nations Yet .. *
  • 4 - Four Tales from the New Decameron 53
  • 5 - Was the Indian Plague Actually Plague, and If Not Why Not? 90
  • Part Three - Naïve and Cunning Diseases *
  • 6 - Cholera, the Black One 105
  • 7 - A Cleverer Pathogen 131
  • Part Four - The Challenge of the Temperate Zones *
  • 8 - An Ague Very Violent 149
  • 9 - Syphilis and the Faustian Bargain 186
  • Part Five - Plagues, Populations and the Biosphere *
  • 10 - Aids and the Future of Plagues 215
  • 11 - Safety in Diversity 254
  • 12 - Why So Many Diseases? 272
  • Glossary 295
  • Notes 304
  • Index 318
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