To save humanity, the USA and other countries must divert the target of their militaries. They spend trillions to protect one group of humans against another. Humans are not the enemy - deadly viruses, bacteria and yeast are. Military budgets should be reduced by at least 50%. The money saved is needed desperately to fund research, education and public health. For now, the SARS-CoV-2 virus and Covid-19 pandemic grab headlines. Still other viruses, along with other pathogens lurk in the background. Before the Covid-19 pandemic emerged, scientists and healthcare professionals warned of not just deadly viruses, but also antibiotic-resistant bacteria and multidrug-resistant yeast. Patients who have compromised immune systems and are in intensive care units (ICUs) are especially vulnerable – as are healthcare workers. As hospitals become overwhelmed with Covid-19 and the seasonal flu (influenza), a new coronavirus has been discovered in swine. It was able to infect human cells grown in culture. This virus and others like it cause more pandemics. Instead of building more cruise missiles we should build more hospitals. We should manufacture masks and other personal protective equipment. We are capable of wisdom and ingenuity. Careful observations and science are essential. In the end, truth will overcome lies. The laws of nature are irrefutable. Break them at your own risk. The consequences are inevitable. However, we can use the laws of ecology to teach us to build a peaceful, cooperative and sustainable humanity.
Recently, scientists reported a careful observation. They discovered a coronavirus that is deadly in swine and is able to infect human cells grown in cell cultures (in vitro) that were derived from both the lung and intestine1,2. It probably emerged after several introductions of similar viruses from bats. It causes severe diarrhea, so it was named swine acute diarrhea syndrome coronavirus (SADS-CoV). Remdesivir was able to inhibit replication of the virus. However, treatment with human convalescent sera containing antibodies to a related group 1 coronavirus (HCoV NL63) was not able to neutralize SADS-CoV. The authors recommended further research, while testing workers when swine outbreaks occur. Also, development and testing of candidate vaccines and drugs should be prioritized to protect human health1.
Also, millions of mink were culled (killed) in the Netherlands, Denmark and Spain because they had the SARS-CoV-2 virus that is causing the Covid-19 pandemic. The virus had mutated and was able to re-infect at least 234 humans3,4. This could pose a risk to vaccines that are being developed to prevent infection by the original virus that has infected almost 50 million people worldwide3.
Many other people and I agree that we should reduce military spending and increase spending on education and research. This includes the Transnational Foundation (TFF), based in Lund, Sweden. The director of TFF, Jan Oberg, and the board of directors drafted a statement which they want you and me to endorse - and ask our friends also to endorse5. It proposes that the world's governments immediately cut military expenditures by 50% and transfer the saved funds (about US$ 1000 billion!) to solve the main problems humanity faces - including climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic5. I have endorsed it and encourage the readers of this article to endorse it, too.
Also, on 23 March 2020, the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres proposed a global cease fire, saying6:
The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war. That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world. It is time to put the armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives6.
We must learn from the pandemic6:
Terrible as it is, the Covid-19 pandemic may be able to teach us something. Humanity must work together to solve our common problems. We must abandon the folly of war, and use the vast sums of money now wasted (or worse than wasted) on armaments for constructive purposes, for example, public health programs. We must work together to rebuild the world after the pandemic. The new world that we build must be sustainable, and it must have both an environmental conscience and a social conscience6.
Also, the organization called One Health recognizes that the health of humans, animal, and the environment are tightly interconnected7. Shortly before the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, they encouraged collaborative, cross-disciplinary approaches when responding to emerging and resurging diseases. They also urged to include studying the health of wildlife to help predict, prevent and mitigate global diseases7.
Another organization called the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID) has used this interdisciplinary approach to study influenza for years and more recently, the Covid-19 pandemic. They have a database that has over 130,000 genomic sequences of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-198. They also emphasize the importance of identifying zoonotic viruses that can jump from animals to humans. GISAID researchers surveyed viruses in swine (pigs). They found a new strain of H1N1 swine flu virus that could cause a new pandemic, similar to the H1N1 virus that causes the Spanish flu from 1918-19209.
Viruses aren’t just potential sources of pandemics. They are an essential part of the biosphere and the human body. That is, the human body is an ecosystem, consisting of not just human cells, but also viruses, Bacteria, Archaea and Eukarya (protozoa, yeasts, fungi and worms). Systems thinking was used to describe a deep ecology, in which humans are viewed as just one of many equal parts of the global ecosystem10. This can be expanded by modern medicine to define a deep ecology in the human body. That is, human eukaryotic cells are just one of the many equally important types of cells in the body and provide only a small portion of the DNA in the human body. Viruses and Bacteria provide much more DNA than the eukaryotic cells and have essential roles in the human body, which is an ecosystem in itself. Like all plants and animals, we are just a small part of Gaia, which is mostly a viral and bacterial world11. Even though viruses are usually thought of as being bad for human health, those that infect Bacteria (bacteriophages) help control the populations of various species of potentially harmful Bacteria. This is reflected in the decision by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to approve the use of a combination of six bacteriophages to eliminate Listeria in food products. Moreover, viral infections can alter human immunity in subtle ways and have an indelible impact on the immune network. So, the holistic view of health that comes from systems thinking must include the microbiome.
Viruses and remnants from ancient viral genomes may be even more important than Bacteria in making us human. There is a large, complex network of mobile genetic elements (mobilome) that remodels genetic material and moves base sequences throughout different kinds of organisms in the biosphere. The vast majority of these mobile genetic elements are transposons and retrotransposons that were probably derived from DNA and RNA viruses, respectively12. It is quite likely that there are ancient viral origins of cognition13. Moreover, viruses and Bacteria in the environment had and continue to have important effects on the human body. Systems thinking was used by many organizations when they collaborated in the Human Microbiome Project, or HMP, as well as the European MetaHIT and the Eldermet Project14,15. The goals of the HMP were to sample, determine and quantify all human-associated microbial life. The European MetaHIT is determining the metagenomics of the human intestinal tract. The Eldermet Project is defining the microbial composition that is associated with aging. These three projects found that human-associated microbiota contains at least 40,000 bacterial strains in 1800 genera. They contain at least 9.9 million non-human genes and about 500 times the number of protein-coding genes than human eukaryotic cells. The HMP has produced microbial maps of the human body. It also hopes to discover how changes in the microbiome are associated with health and disease. The European HMP-counterpart MetaHIT focuses on microbiota in the intestinal tract. The Eldermet project focuses on the microbial composition associated with aging. More recently, the Earth Microbiome Project has begun with the goal “to attempt to characterize the global microbial taxonomic and functional diversity for the benefit of the planet and mankind” 15.
Others have urged a Global Virome Project that would identify and characterize the global diversity of viruses, with a special emphasis on viruses in humans and animals that may currently host the next virus that will infect humans16,20. The three specific benefits that the project would provide are early warning of future threats, data to improve prevention and reduction of these threats, and inputs for advance preparation of responses for unexpected outbreaks of unknown diseases17 . The USA and other governments even started a project called PREDICT21,22. It was the first program that aimed to discover wild animals that host viruses and identify factors that make them likely to spillover into humans. However, the Republican party of Donald Trump ended the program. The Covid-19 pandemic began only a few weeks after the end of PREDICT-2. Since 2009, PREDICT worked with over 60 countries to identify at least 931 previously unknown virus species from 145,000 samples of wildlife, livestock, and humans22.
In the USA, the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) created a Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF) that was supposed to back “expanded and sustained national investment in prevention and public health programs” 23. In the Budget Act of 2018, $1.35 billion was cut from the PPHF, to be spread out over ten years. The Republican party of Donald Trump eliminated a key position (The Global Health Security and Biodefense directorate) that would have been involved in pandemic response. They also eliminated the National Security Council’s Office of Global Health Security and Biodefense in May 2018. It was done to save money after the taxes for the richest people and corporations had been reduced. President Obama had created the unit in 2016 following an Ebola outbreak in West Africa23.
Viruses are the most abundant biological entities in all habitats. They are a major reservoir of genetic diversity affecting biogeochemical cycles and ecosystem dynamics. However, relatively few genomes of viruses have been deposited into databanks24.
However, viruses are not the only threat for causing pandemics. The World Health Organization (WHO) has given priority to several antibiotic-resistant bacteria to guide research25. They recommended focusing research efforts on antibiotics that are active against multidrug-resistant tuberculosis and Gram-negative bacteria. They identified these bacteria that caused community-acquired infections: Salmonella and Campylobacter species, as well as Neisseria gonorrhoeae, and Helicobacter pylori. Other previously recognized diseases include malaria and AIDS.
Meanwhile, the WHO and UNESCO are working together on an evidence-based response to Covid-19, through the Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund powered by the United Nations Foundation and Swiss Philanthropy Foundation. As part of the agreement, part of the money from the Fund is going to UNICEF to support its work with vulnerable children and communities all over the world.
So, medicine, science, technology and manufacturing can’t do the job without help. Knowledge alone is insufficient. We also need wisdom, which other authors have provided. We face threats that are potentially much more severe than this virus. As we encroach further into remote ecosystems (such as the thawing Arctic) other deadly viruses will emerge. We must reject sexism, patriarchy and xenophobia, because they work with racism, classism and homophobia to damage the environment and threaten public health26. The things that are considered to be masculine or feminine reflect a hierarchy in which masculine is superior to feminine. Women and Mother Earth (Gaia) should not be simple commodities that men can consume and then dispose of when they are done. We must reject this.
It would also help if we didn’t eat so much meat. According to recent studies, the U.S. government spends about $38 billion each year to subsidize the meat and dairy industries, with less than one percent of that sum allocated to aiding the production of fruits and vegetables27. Meat and dairy sales are about $250 billion.
Again, I encourage people to endorse the statement by the Transnational Foundation (TFF) 5. They propose that the world's governments immediately cut military expenditures by 50% and transfer the saved funds (about US$ 1000 billion!) to solve the main problems humanity faces - including climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic5. I have endorsed it and encourage the readers of this article to endorse it, too.
1 Edwards, C.E. et al. Swine acute diarrhea syndrome coronavirus replication in primary human cells reveals potential susceptibility to infection. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, USA, 12 October, 2020.
2 Cui, J. et al. Origin and evolution of pathogenic Coronaviruses. Nature Reviews Microbiology, Vol. 17, p. 181- 192, 2018.
3 SARS-CoV-2 mink-associated variant strain – Denmark, WHO, 6 Nov., 2020.
4 Oreshkova, N. et al. SARS-CoV-2 infection in farmed minks, the Netherlands, April and May 2020. Euro Surveillance, Vol. 25, 11 June, 2020.
5 Oberg, J. Proposal by the Transnational Foundation, 16 October, 2020.
6 Avery, J.S. We need solidarity, not sanctions. Our world faces a common enemy. Wall Street International, 8 April, 2020.
7 Mackenzie, J.S. and Jeggo, M. The One Health approach - Why is it so important? Tropical Medicine and Infectious Disease, Vol. 4, article 88, 2019.
8 GISAID Homepage.
9 GISAID. New swine flu enters the watchlist, July 7, 2020.
10 Capra F. The Web of Life. Anchor Books. New York, 1997. 11 McFall-Ngai, M. et al. Animals in a bacterial world, a new imperative for the life sciences. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, USA, Vol. 110, p. 3229-3236, 2013.
12 Löwer, R. et al. The viruses in all of us: Characteristics and biological significance of human endogenous retrovirus sequences. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, Vol. 93, p. 5177-5184, 1996.
13 Campioni, M.R. and Finkbeiner, S. Going retro: ancient viral origins of cognition. Neuron, Vol. 86, 346-348, 2015.
14 Gevers, D. et al. The Human Microbiome Project: a community resource for the healthy human microbiome. PLoS Biology, Vol. 10, article e1001377, 2012.
15 Earth Microbiome Project, 2017.
16 Carroll, D. et al. The Global Virome Project. Science, Vol. 359, p. 872-874, 2018.
17 Jonas, O. and Seifman, R. Do we need a Global Virome Project? The Lancet Global Health, Vol. 7, e1314-1316, 2019.
18 Adiliaghdam, F. and Jeffrey, K.L. Illuminating the human virome in health and disease. Genome Medicine, Vol. 12, article 66, 2020.
19 It is generally believed that bat-borne CoVs will re-emerge to cause the next disease outbreak. Fan, Y. et al. Bat coronaviruses in China. Viruses, Vol. 11, article 210, 2019.
20 Kumata, K. et al. A tissue level atlas of the healthy human virome. BMC Biology, Vol. 18, article 55, 2020.
21 Carlson, C.J. From PREDICT to prevention, one pandemic later. The Lancet Microbe, Vol. 1, p. e6-e7, 2020.
22 Kelly, T.R. et al. Implementing One Health approaches to confront emerging and re-emerging zoonotic disease threats: lessons from PREDICT. One Health Outlook, Vol. 2, p. 1–7, 2020.
23 Robertson, L. et al. Democrats’ misleading coronavirus claims. Posted on 3 March, 2020 by FactCheck.org.
24 Paez-Espino, D. et al. Uncovering Earth’s virome. Nature, Vol. 536, p. 425-430, 2016.
25 Tacconelli, E. et al. Global priority list of antibiotic-resistant bacteria to guide research, discovery, and development of new antibiotics. World Health Organization, 2017.
26 Smith, R.E. The myth of gender differences in intelligence. We should all have equal opportunities to lead full, rich lives. Wall Street International, 24 Aug., 2019.
27 Sewell, C. Removing the meat subsidy: Our cognitive dissonance around animal agriculture. Journal of International Affairs, 11 Feb. 2020.