Thursday, 20 August 2015

Synthetic DNA Cure For Malevolent 'Design'

Photo credit: NIAID
Synthetic DNA vaccine against MERS induces immunity in animal study -- ScienceDaily

Supposing you were asked to place individuals on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 as highly moral, caring, compassionate with a desire to help the sick, and 10 as a mass-murdering, uncaring psychopath devoid of any morals whatsoever. Where on that scale would you place someone who designed a means of randomly killing hundreds or thousands of people who had done nothing more than happen to come into contact with someone else who had been randomly selected for this treatment and which especially selected those who tried to care for the sick?

More of that in a moment.

Although proponents of 'Intelligent Design' will normally vehemently deny it, it is almost a defining characteristic that they are also fundamentalist creationists and often Bible literalists. That the supposed 'Intelligent Designer' is actually the Abrahamic god of the Bible, Talmud and Qur'an is one of the worst kept secrets in religious apologetics. 'Intelligent Design' is merely creationism dressed up to look like science.

So, scientific information like this often causes either acute denialism or aggression and abuse in Intelligent Design advocates who seem to be the only ones who think they are getting away with the subterfuge. The science I'm referring to is that which shows this 'Intelligent Designer', if we play along with the charade, is very different to the supposed god of the holy books.

This particular instance is a paper announcing the findings of a trial of a synthetic DNA vaccine against the emerging 'Middle East Respiratory Syndrome' coronavirus (MERS-CoV) which is becoming commoner in Arabia and showing up in other places, especially Europe and the USA. Since it first appeared in 2012, there have been about 1,300 known cases and almost 500 deaths from the virus. An outbreak earlier this year in South Korea originated from a single individual but spread to 181 others, mostly health workers, resulting in hospital closures and over 30 deaths. At the moment, there is no effective treatment nor preventative vaccine.

The trial, which involved giving a group of macaque monkeys a vaccine consisting of a strand of synthetic DNA, in the form of a plasmid, which codes for a protein spike found on MERS-CoV. The DNA quickly replicates and produces millions of copies of itself and millions of harmless copies of the viral protein to which the vaccinated monkeys rapidly produced antibodies. They were then exposed to MERS-CoV as were a control group of macaques. All of the control group developed symptoms of infection but none of the test group did.

First identified in 2012, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) is caused by an emerging human coronavirus, which is distinct from the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV), and represents a novel member of the lineage C betacoronoviruses. Since its identification, MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV) has been linked to more than 1372 infections manifesting with severe morbidity and, often, mortality (about 495 deaths) in the Arabian Peninsula, Europe, and, most recently, the United States. Human-to-human transmission has been documented, with nosocomial transmission appearing to be an important route of infection. The recent increase in cases of MERS in the Middle East coupled with the lack of approved antiviral therapies or vaccines to treat or prevent this infection are causes for concern. We report on the development of a synthetic DNA vaccine against MERS-CoV. An optimized DNA vaccine encoding the MERS spike protein induced potent cellular immunity and antigen-specific neutralizing antibodies in mice, macaques, and camels. Vaccinated rhesus macaques seroconverted rapidly and exhibited high levels of virus-neutralizing activity. Upon MERS viral challenge, all of the monkeys in the control-vaccinated group developed characteristic disease, including pneumonia. Vaccinated macaques were protected and failed to demonstrate any clinical or radiographic signs of pneumonia. These studies demonstrate that a consensus MERS spike protein synthetic DNA vaccine can induce protective responses against viral challenge, indicating that this strategy may have value as a possible vaccine modality against this emerging pathogen.*

*Copyright © 2015, American Association for the Advancement of Science.

What we have here then, if we play along with the infantile magic 'Intelligent Design' notion, is an example of this assumed Intelligent Designer (i.e. the Abrahamic god) designing a nasty, virulent virus for no other purpose but to make humans sick and die, and an example of how humans can now use science to devise a system for obstructing this magic entity's allegedly perfect plan.

But, we are also told by these same religious fundamentalists that they can't imagine any reason for behaving decently other than that their magic invisible god has told them how to behave and promises them a reward for obedience to its, apparently arbitrary, rules. In other words, in common with even non-fundamentalist theists, Intelligent Design advocates believe their 'Intelligent Designer' is also the source of morals.

Yet what we have here appears to be an example of this 'Intelligent Designer' behaving badly and harming people just for the sake of it, or maybe just to demonstrate that it can; and we have humans behaving morally and trying to help sufferers and the victims of this malevolent designer, and to prevent people getting sick in the first place. Where on that scale of 1 to 10 should this 'designer' be?

So who is/are the moral ones here: the 'designer' of MERS-CoV or the designers of the DNA vaccine which prevents humans catching it?

Like so many of these difficult questions for creationists, I expect denialism or abuse but invite any creationist who feels capable to give a rational and polite explanation for this apparent paradox which is consistent with their belief in a magic invisible designer to offer it up here.

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