Course Catalog


Darwinian Medicine

What can we learn about our health by taking an evolutionary perspective on disease, aging, pain, and trauma? The adaptations of our bodies and the adaptations of the parasites (germs & worms) that sometimes make us sick are produced by natural selection, and Darwinian Medicine is concerned with questions of adaptation: Why dont we live longer that we do? Why do our bodies fall apart as we get old? Why do humans, alone in the animal kingdom, have menopause? Why are some germs fairly benign while others are virulent? (Isnt it bad for any germ to kill its host?) Why do we get a fever when we get sick? Should we suppress our fevers? Does sneezing benefit us by expelling germs that are making us sick, or does it benefit the germs by dispersing them? Why does nausea accompany pregnancy (morning sickness)? Why are children more finicky than adults about what they eat? Why hasnt natural selection rid us of our useless and dangerous appendix? Should we treat our sprains with ice and anti-inflammatories, blocking he bodys response to the injury? Why do so many of us have miserable allergic reactions to things that are not harmful? Most mammals recover the nutrients of the womb by resorbing the uterine lining if they are not impregnated during a reproductive cycle. Why do we, and some of our primate cousins, waste energy and nutrients in heavy menstruation? Could there be an adaptive explanation for adolescent acne? The new discipline of Darwinian Medicine has generated some new questions, provided a few interesting hypotheses and sometimes even produced answers! Requirements include regular reading and participation in seminar-style course meetings, weekly quizzes on the readings, one short paper explaining a key concept, and one research paper involving some original work (e.g., generation of new information, analysis of old information, new synthesis of existing literature).

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