Monday, May 17, 2010

The utmost paradox

To kill a life to preserve life

How can we kill life to preserve life? Sounds like an oxymoron that doesn't make sense to all.

Let us consider the video game series Halo. The storyline of the game goes like this:

In the distant past, a race known as Forerunners controlled the galaxy, using their advanced technology to protect lifeforms throughout the universe. However, they were caught off guard by the Flood, an alien parasite which devours life to obtain food. The Flood, spreading through infestation of life, threatened and overrun the universe before the Forerunners could contain them. The Forerunners solution was to kill all sentient lifeforms thus depriving the Flood of their food source, and repopulate the galaxy after that. So the Forerunners built the Halo array, when activated, would destroy all sentient lifeforms. They activated the array and disappeared.

Halo as seen in video games.

Die hard video game fans would praise the plot of the game in the Halo series. I don't play the game with my hand but I enjoy watching people playing, and see the story unfolds.

With this paradox I would also like to introduce how immune system in your body works. When you get sick, pathogens (bacteria/viruses) infect cells in your body, the battle rages on between immune cells and the pathogen.

Cytotoxic T cell
Cytotoxic T cell.

And guess what? Some specific immune cells kill infected cells in your body. Essentially, they function to "kill life to preserve life."

Infected cells in your body are unable to perform their normal function and they are turned into "virus factories". These cells must be removed from your body or else the pathogen would take over your whole body and you'll die. Infection of one cell with a viral particle can give rise to a thousand more viral particles, so removal of one infected cell saves the immune system from dealing with a lot more viruses later, this preserves your life.

Cytotoxic T cells and natural killer cells are those immune cells that clear infections by killing your infected cells. To do the job, these cells must be able to recognize the infected ones and release appropriate signals. These immune cells "see" by reading the molecules "reported" on your cells, but I'm not going into the details of recognition and killing this time.

In both examples I illustrated, to take care of the greater interest, you can't spare the innocents to deal with the bad guys, in situations that arise you need to kill a life to preserve life.

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