The following editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune on Thursday, March 12:

We rejoice at the news that scientists have cracked the genetic code of all known species of the common cold. That means a cure, possibly even a vaccine may not be all that far off.

Revenge! For all those sore throats, fogged heads, hacking coughs and blustery sneezes. For trillions of hours of lost productivity. For forcing us to watch daytime television.

We can now eagerly anticipate that glorious day when colds are wiped from the Earth. Will anyone weep for the common cold-inducing rhinovirus, aside from makers of cold remedies that don’t work?

Of course not. Still, after so many eons of battle, we think it is only proper to pause here for a moment of reflection, in awe and grudging respect for this crafty adversary. Astonishingly resilient and inventive, the rhinovirus has triumphed over the human immune system year after year, century after century.

How? Just check out the latest cold research published in the journal Science.

Researchers showed that a person can be infected with two colds at once. Those different cold viruses can co-exist in the same cell and get together in sort of a misery convention, swapping genetic materials, creating new viruses within a body. That means the virus actually mutates in your body in an attempt to stay one step ahead of the armies of the immune system.

The reason that you can get colds all your life is that the rhinovirus has a large and diverse family tree. Researchers studied 99 strains collected from the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, and found, to noobody’s surprise, they were all related. But the diversity and the interconnections within the family were striking. The family tree is “so beautiful it makes me cry,” says Stephen Liggett, the study’s co-author.

You can get the same cold three times before you build up enough immunity to thwart it. So if you think you keep getting the same cold over and over again? Well, you probably are.

Is it possible that people in the distant future who don’t get colds will miss the experience in some tiny way? The bundling and the chicken soup? The sympathy? The dread of that first twinge of a sore throat, and the relief and triumph when normal breathing is restored?

By wiping out the cold do we tamper with the laws of nature?

In “The War of the Worlds,” a Martian invasion conquers humanity … until the Martians start dropping dead. The Martians, despite advanced science and weaponry, lacked a defense against the common cold. That’s not enough to grant the virus a reprieve, of course.

But like the seed bank that scientists are assembling to replant the Earth after Armageddon, the world may want to keep a few of these hardy cold viruses in some super-secret laboratory, ready to spring into action.

Just in case.


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