Posted on September 25, 2012 by Christopher Thrall

The world-renown Emeritus Professor in Cell & Developmental Biology visited Augustana to speak about Darwinian medicine and students respond in their own words.

On Thursday, September 20, the world-renown Emeritus Professor in Cell & Developmental Biology at University College London visited Augustana to speak about Darwinian medicine.

Evolution is only interested in successful reproduction. Aging is an evolutionary problem and is not programmed but is due to wear and tear, and genes acting early to prevent it. Fever is also an evolutionary problem and may be related to changes in the immune system. The majority of chronic diseases in modern populations, like obesity, come from the mismatch between our bodies and modern environments—preferences for fat, salt and sugar were useful a few thousand years ago. Modern hygiene has removed most of the worms from our gut, and our immune systems react inappropriately and cause immune diseases like multiple sclerosis.

There are significant health differences between the sexes which have an evolutionary origin. The overall picture suggests that women are more prone to chronic debilitating conditions, such as arthritis and depression, whereas men are more likely to suffer life threatening conditions such as heart attack and stroke.

Evolution results in organisms that are resiliently adapted to their particular environment. However, if environmental conditions change, traits that once enabled species to be resilient and thrive can become detrimental to survival.

“Having Dr. Wolpert visit Augustana was a fantastic experience that none of us will forget. His talk on evolutionary medicine allowed me to view both evolution and medicine from a different perspective. I found it very interesting that the fields were so closely intertwined.

“Before the talk I had not considered medical conditions – such as fever – as having a purpose. Dr. Wolpert convinced me otherwise. I am very lucky to have been given the opportunity to learn about both his theories and his personality that may have shaped some of those theories.”
– Jill Bannister

“Meeting with Dr Wolpert was one of the most interesting and rewarding experiences I have had since arriving at Augustana. I was particularly interested by his explanation that chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes are a result of the fact that our diets have changed drastically from those of our ancestors. I was also intrigued by the idea that some people believe that mental illnesses may be adaptive. While I do not believe this is the case, it was interesting to be presented with this idea.

“I was very honoured to have been given the opportunity to speak with Dr. Wolpert one-on-one. He was very entertaining. I loved that he was very strong in his opinions and had no problem with explaining why he felt that way.”
– Sara Morland

“Listening to Dr. Wolpert speak was an incredible opportunity and going for lunch with him was quite surreal. He was very friendly and took an interest in all of us and our academics. I am sure he taught everyone and challenged them in some way. Augustana has continually provided these rare opportunities to myself and other students.”
– Lucas Hudec


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