Survival of the Sickest part 3

What did you think about the reading?

Dr. Moalem’s novel “Survival of the Sickest” continues to amaze and intrigue me as I continued reading. His style of writing is unique and I am always interested in the obscure theories he writes about. I especially enjoyed the chapters focusing on the reasons we age and the gene pool, those subjects have always interested me, and he does not just state theories, but give interesting stories, analogies, and uses pop culture examples to keep readers into the story.

What did you learn?

Dr, Moalem starts off with the story about the invention of the vaccine, and how it was discovered because people who were sick with cowpox had immunity against the deadly disease, smallpox. This led to the discovery of vaccination by using harmless strands of diseases to build up immunity to the more deadly strands. Then the chapter discusses how Jean-Baptist Lamarck my not have been completely wrong with his theory of inherited acquired traits. He believed that traits that the parents acquired during their lifetime would be past on to the offspring, and the scientific community rejected his ideas in favor of Darwin’s ideas, but Dr. Moalem believes he may have not been completely incorrect. Recent studies have shown that bacteria like E. coli that cant digest milk were placed in an environment where the only food they could get was lactose, they developed the ability to digest lactose and then passed it on to their offspring, like the theory of inherited acquired traits said.

The next chapter dives into epigenetics, the study of how offspring inherit and express new traits from parents without changes in their genetic structure. An experiment with fat yellow mice showed the possibilities of epigenetics. Scientists split fat yellow rice into two groups, one group was left alone to mate and have fate yellow baby mice, while the other was given good prenatal care and had small brown baby mice. The amazing part is that the small brown baby mice had the same gene that made the parents fat and yellow, except it was just turned off. Then Dr. Moalem starts the debate over nature versus nurture by explaining how mice after birth become more confident and relaxed if nurtured by their mothers and nervous wrecks if they were ignored. This happened even when the pups switched mothers because the nurturing of mothers caused the removal of methyl markers and helped brain development.

The next chapter is about aging and why. Dr. Moalem explains that genes control aging and they found this out because of a genetic disorder called Hutchinson-Gilford progeria. Hutchinson-Gilford progeria is one of the genetic mutations that cause rapid aging and by studying this and other orphan diseases, scientists learned about normal aging, and discovered that aging is preprogramed. The novel discusses the reason for cells having a limit for the number of times they can divide is because of the prevention of creating cancer cells. Dr. Moalem then continued to explain one of the most interesting theories in the novel, a theory that humans used to be semi aquatic. The most common theory about human origins is the savanna theory, which says that humans became what we are because are ancestors moved into the African savanna, and adapted to what we are. Dr. Moalem believes that, instead of moving to the savanna, they went to live near water, and hunted fish, eventually becoming semi-aquatic.

What questions do you still have?

One of the few questions that I have is if it’s possible to add telomerase to regular cells so as to prevent aging. I know that that is why cancer cells are deadly because they have never ending supply of telomeres which allows them to divide indefinably, but what if there was away to add to the amount of times a cell can divide? Besides this, Dr. Moalem did not leave many questions in my mind, just answers.

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One thought on “Survival of the Sickest part 3

  1. I found it very interesting how the theory of inheriting acquired traits is not entirely wrong after all. Jumping genes can change the entire genome so quickly by “moving the furniture around” when under evolutionary pressure. There are viruses or retroviruses that are able to pass the Weismann barrier, carrying information from somatic cells to germ cells. This also supports the theory of punctuated equilibrium.

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