Survival of the Sickest

Well here we have a review of a book I read over a year ago.  Not exactly ideal, but I really liked the book so I wanted to make sure it finally got mentioned.

—4—

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Moalem, a medical student with a Ph.D. in neurogenetics, asks a number of provocative questions, such as why debilitating hereditary diseases persist in humans and why we suffer from the consequences of aging. His approach to these questions is solidly rooted in evolutionary theory, and he capably demonstrates that each disease confers a selective advantage to individuals who carry either one or two alleles for inherited diseases . . . Whether he is discussing hemochromatosis (a disorder that causes massive amounts of iron to accumulate in individuals), diabetes or sickle cell anemia, his conclusion is always the same: each condition offers enough positive evolutionary advantages to offset the negative consequences, and this message is repeated over and over.

I like medicine (obviously), and this book had an interesting premise, so it immediately appealed to me.  Why would many common diseases and disorders evolve and continue to propagate in our gene pool?  This book postulates that these often deadly diseases, such as diabetes and high cholesterol, provided the afflicted with protection at some point in our evolutionary history.  For example, many know that sickle-cell trait, common in tropical regions, confers some protection against malaria.

This is an easy book to read; it is written for the medical novice.  Moalem also has a bit of humor, which keeps the book from becoming too heavy.  A couple times I thought he was stretching a bit too far on the connections, but each topic is thoroughly explained without being dry.  A good read for anyone with an interest in genetics and evolutionary biology!  Fun, fascinating, and fast to read.

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