Greg Cochran’s Horrible Idea

Regarding this post and comment thread at GNXP:

Many people are now aware that a particular type of cancer in dogs turns out not to be induced by a virus as once thought, but is in fact an infectious agent in itself that originally derived from a dog. The cancers that are driving the Tasmanian devil to extinction are thought to be similar – the Tasmanian devil has a remarkable ability to heal from wounds and bites, almost regenerative, but there may be a reason why more animals do not share its gift.

Greg Cochran suggests that humans may have picked up similar ‘infections’ from Neanderthals, and that the best source of Neanderthal DNA might be people suffering from particular diseases. The concept is fascinating and horrifying.

Does it worsen the idea to have these hypothetical infections come from another simian species? Would it be less horrifying if other humans were the source?


8 Responses to “Greg Cochran’s Horrible Idea”

  1. I don’t understand what’s horrifying about it at all. Diseases from other humans are common. Cowpox is old-hat as well.

  2. Also, your link is broken.

  3. Bah. Every time I delete the initial ‘http://’ when I paste an address into the address box, WordPress puts it back.

    The link should be fixed now.

    Cowpox is a viral infection derived from cows. The dog cancer is itself a form of canine tissue, living inside other dogs.

    I find the latter much creepier than the former. And the idea of an almost-human species living on as infectious tissue inside humans… (shudders) It’s much worse than mere bacteria or viruses, and even worse than parasites like malaria, which also creep me out.

  4. Is there a reason you can give WHY it’s so much creepier?

  5. I don’t think so.

    There are plenty of solid evolutionary reasons why people find it easier to fear spiders than flowers, although I doubt very many can explain them.

    For some reason, I find complex multicellular parasites more horrifying than unicellular or viral ones. Call it the ‘squick factor’.

  6. A mosquito, leach or tick is even more multicellular and complex.

  7. And those things horrify me. Deeply.

    Vampire bats are tolerable only because of their self-interested altruism, which I find makes an excellent example of selection effects. Otherwise I would probably be in favor of exterminating them, at least on my bad days when I’m not so concerned about ecological preservation.

    Same with mosquitoes. I recognize that wiping them out would be bad for entire biomes, but I still hate them with an unreasoning fury.

  8. gcochran Says:

    Check out sacculina.

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