|Ongoing Human Evolution and the Rise in Certain Disorders|
|SciMed - Biology|
|TS-Si News Service|
|Monday, 11 January 2010 15:00|
Washington, DC, USA. New work argues that certain evolutionary adaptations that once benefited humans may now be helping such ailments persist in spite of — or perhaps because of — advancements in modern culture and medicine.
The origin and evolution of Homo sapiens as a distinct species provides the necessary context to address human medical needs and what is needed for survival and well-being. The subtle but ongoing pressures of human evolution could explain the seeming rise of disorders such as autism, autoimmune diseases, reproductive cancers, and a variety of birth conditions — including genetic anomlaies.
An article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) point out linkages within the plethora of new information in human genetics and the implications for human biology and public health. It also illustrates how one could teach these perspectives in medical and premedical curricula.
Author Peter Ellison is the John Cowles Professor of Anthropology at Harvard University. His co-authors are Stephen Stearns of Yale University, Randolph Nesse of the University of Michigan, and Diddahally Govindaraju of the Boston University School of Medicine. Their research was first presented at the Arthur M. Sackler Colloquium, co-sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM).
"I think that the main take-home point is that evolution and medicine really do have things to say to each other, and some of these insights actually reduce suffering and save lives," says Stearns.
Colloquium presentations described in the current paper include research suggesting that:
In the final presentation, researchers called for the integration of evolutionary perspectives into medical school curricula, to help future physicians consider health problems from an evolutionary perspective.
"We're trying to design ways to educate physicians who will have a broader perspective and not think of the human body as a perfectly designed machine," says Ellison.
"Our biology is the result of many of evolutionary trade-offs, and understanding these histories and conflicts can really help the physician understand why we get sick and what we might do to stay healthy."
Previous work in evolutionary medicine helped explain why disease is so prevalent and difficult to prevent — because natural selection favors reproduction over health, biology evolves more slowly than culture, and pathogens evolve more quickly than humans.
CitationEvolution in Health and Medicine Sackler Colloquium: Making evolutionary biology a basic science for medicine. Randolph M. Nesse, Carl T. Bergstrom, Peter T. Ellison, Jeffrey S. Flier, Peter Gluckman, Diddahally R. Govindaraju, Dietrich Niethammer, Gilbert S. Omenn, Robert L. Perlman, Mark D. Schwartz, Mark G. Thomas, Stephen C. Stearns, and David Valle. PNAS 2009; ePub ahead of print. doi:10.1073/pnas.0906224106
New applications of evolutionary biology in medicine are being discovered at an accelerating rate, but few physicians have sufficient educational background to use them fully. This article summarizes suggestions from several groups that have considered how evolutionary biology can be useful in medicine, what physicians should learn about it, and when and how they should learn it. Our general conclusion is that evolutionary biology is a crucial basic science for medicine. In addition to looking at established evolutionary methods and topics, such as population genetics and pathogen evolution, we highlight questions about why natural selection leaves bodies vulnerable to disease. Knowledge about evolution provides physicians with an integrative framework that links otherwise disparate bits of knowledge. It replaces the prevalent view of bodies as machines with a biological view of bodies shaped by evolutionary processes. Like other basic sciences, evolutionary biology needs to be taught both before and during medical school. Most introductory biology courses are insufficient to establish competency in evolutionary biology. Premedical students need evolution courses, possibly ones that emphasize medically relevant aspects. In medical school, evolutionary biology should be taught as one of the basic medical sciences. This will require a course that reviews basic principles and specific medical applications, followed by an integrated presentation of evolutionary aspects that apply to each disease and organ system. Evolutionary biology is not just another topic vying for inclusion in the curriculum; it is an essential foundation for a biological understanding of health and disease.
Keywords: curriculum, darwinian, education, evolution, health.
|Last Updated on Monday, 11 January 2010 14:40|