Thursday, July 26, 2007

Survival of the Sickest (Book #73)

Survival of the Sickest (Sharon Moalem w/ Jonathan Prince, 2007) tells of the evolutionary biology of disease, focusing largely on how the adaptations your ancestors evolved to meet the hardships of their environment can make you sick centuries or millenia later. To pick a simple example, as a person of Northern European descent, I'm more prone to skin cancer because my ancestors evolved light skin to make vitamin D more efficiently from weak northern sunlight. But on the other side of the coin, African-Americans who live in places like Seattle are more prone to certain cancers than those living in Miami, because the darker your skin, the more likely you are to have a vitamin D deficiency if you live in the north, which increases your predisposition toward cancer. And it's speculated that I'm more prone to type 2 diabetes because elevated blood sugar may have helped my ancestors survive the cold of an Ice Age winter close to the glacier line. Super-tasters? Less likely to accidentally ingest poison.

It's a fascinating read, and a quick one due to an unusually chatty and informal style--Moalem's co-author/ghostwriter is a speechwriter. The tone took a little adjusting to--I'm used to my popular science a little more scholarly. But it's a true page turner.

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