Monday, May 07, 2007

Evolution and medicine

Catriona MacCallum, an editor at PLoS Biology has posted the following essay (being PLoS, it is available to everybody) about medicine and evolution.

According to the article, physicians do not get much of a training in evolution as a method to study the origin of diseases. That is because most of the training of physicists is not to make them good scientists but to make them good at treating patients. Quoting the article: "does a mechanic need to understand the origins, history and technological advances that have gone into the modern motor vehicle in order to fix it?".

This approach is not entirely wrong and once can treat things that are the result of an evolutionary process without having to spend too much time studying evolution. A different thing is when the disease is not a result of evolution but they are evolution itself. They never mention cancer in the article but cancer and infectious diseases are clear cases of diseases in which evolution should be dealt with if the disease is to be cured or even contained. Without an understanding of evolution a physician will be unable to understand how the bacteria or cancer cells will react and evolve when a treatment is used or what phenotypical traits are more likely to be evolved and thus cause problems to or be exploited by the medical community.
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