Unintended Consequences
From Easter Island

I love to travel. In my adult life, I have spent more than two years overseas. Travel is transformative. George Santayana said about travel and education, “A child educated only at school is an uneducated child.” That has been my mantra for three decades of teaching. I tell every class to get their degree and get out of North America if they want an education being more than two-dimensional.

If you ever visit my home, you will see treasures from around the world. I have three priceless treasures from Easter Island, which locals call Rapa Nui. This is a carved head of a moai and bird.

Moais protect the islanders, and since I live on the water, I have one on guard watching me.

After the coronavirus becomes less threatening and you are looking for one of the most remote islands in the world, you might want to visit Rapa Nui. You will have to fly from the States to Santiago, Chile. Then you need to change planes and fly 2,400 miles to Rapa Nui.

Back in the early 60s, a group of forty scientists from Canada visited Easter Island. They wanted to research the health of the islanders. The locals rarely wore shoes, but they also rarely got tetanus. The researchers took soil, flora, fauna, and fungus samples to Montreal. Nevertheless, the lab closed, and one of the scientists took a frozen specimen of the soil with him to Princeton, NJ.

After five years in his freezer, he discovered a new antibiotic, Streptomyces hygroscopicus, which cured fungal infections. In honor of Rapa Nui, he named it rapamycin. That is why the people on Easter Island hardly ever got tetanus. It is an example of unintended consequences. But wait. There is more to this story.

In the early days of organ transplants, the death rates were very high due to the rejection of the transplanted organ. Rapamycin is an immune suppressant that assists the body from rejecting the donor organ. That is another positive unintended consequence of the drug discovered on Easter Island.


Finally, rapamycin has another positive unintended consequence…longevity. Scientists have discovered that rapamycin blocks the enzyme TOR (target of rapamycin) in mice. As a result, the mice live longer than none treated mice.

I am not suffering any fungal infection, nor do I have an organ transplant. Nonetheless, I am aging. Since I do much of my shopping on Amazon, I wrote in the search bar…rapamycin. There are countless choices.

I’m pondering which pill might help me live longer than George Burns. We had the same birthday of January 20th, but he was born a half-century before me. However, I learned the value of unintended consequences from Rapa Nui