Friday, April 20, 2007

Is Evolution Important for Medicine?

Obviously I think so, but here is a thoughtful analysis in a recent article, "Does medicine without evolution make sense?" in PLOS medicine

MacCallum CJ (2007) Does Medicine without Evolution Make Sense? PLoS Biol 5(4): e112 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050112

If the answer is no, then why is evolution not typically part of the medical school curriculum? MacCallum argues that this is because evolution is often seen as not essential from the point of view of a practicing physician because at the patient level medicine is about problem solving. But MacCallum then makes a case, just as I might do that evolution is important in medicine, noting that:

"As the oft-quoted Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote in 1973, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” [15]. The time has clearly come for medicine to explicitly integrate evolutionary biology into its theoretical and practical underpinnings The medical students of Charles Darwin's day did not have the advantage of such a powerful framework to inform their thinking; we shouldn't deprive today's budding medical talent of the potential insights to be gained at the intersection of these two great disciplines."

The accompanying cartoon by Nick D. Kim is from the article with permission.

By the way the Howard Hughs Medical Institute does a great job promoting science including evolution and I highly recommend their DVD, Evolution: constant change and common threads, part of the 2005 Holiday lecture series. The DVD is well produced and has a series of highly accessible lectures suitable for high school or college. Order yours through http://www.hhmi.org/biointeractive/. The 2006 series on stem cell research looks equally juicy. The DVD's are free to educators and cover a wide range of topics. Right now I have one each on Genomics, RNA and Ethics in Biomedical Research, waiting for my review.

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