Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Evolution and medicine

PLoS Biology has an editorial about the role of evolution in medicine and medical school. It does a good job of explaining the different viewpoints on the issue, without going into stupid country (e.g. Egnor).

Does Medicine without Evolution Make Sense?

It is curious that Charles Darwin, perhaps medicine's most famous dropout, provided the impetus for a subject that figures so rarely in medical education. Indeed, even the iconic textbook example of evolution—antibiotic resistance—is rarely described as “evolution” in relevant papers published in medical journals [1]. Despite potentially valid reasons for this oversight (e.g., that authors of papers in medical journals would regard the term as too general), it propagates into the popular press when those papers are reported on, feeding the wider perception of evolution's irrelevance in general, and to medicine in particular [1]. Yet an understanding of how natural selection shapes vulnerability to disease can provide fundamental insights into medicine and health and is no less relevant than an understanding of physiology or biochemistry.

As can been seen from the lead paragraph, the editorial comes down on the side of teaching evolution to medical students (perhaps not surprising, given the venue).

My take on the issue, as neither a doctor/medical professional nor a evolutionary biologist, is that in a time with resistant TB on the march and the finding of other troublesome resistant diseases, we cannot ignore the need for doctors, and other medical professionals, to understand the basics of evolution, and how treating diseases might have an influence on how the diseases evolve.
On top of that, knowledge of evolution might create new vectors for fighting old diseases, which obviously would be benificial to all.

So, in other words, I am quite in agreement with the editorial about the need for medical students to learn at least basic evolutionary biology.

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Blogger Jef said...

An excellent post and among the most important fact for teaching all aspects of biology. Evolution is necessary for understanding life. Our current state of medicine and systematics today would be nothing without the precident created by evolutionary theory. And it is continuing to be reinforced by modern genomic studies. Lets make it clear to ID progenitors this fact, and keep moving forward in understanding ourselves and our link to all life on this planet.

April 19, 2007 6:08 PM  

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