Human Genome Mania

Not genes but germs cause most chronic diseases.

So argues respected evolutionary biologist Paul W. Ewald in his book, Plague Time: How Stealth Infections Cause Cancers, Heart Disease, and Other Deadly Ailments

The Amherst professor is attempting to drag the medical establishment into the Darwinian age.

Although it’s trendy today to blame most major long-term diseases on inheriting bad genes, Ewald contends that today’s “Human Genome Mania” often violates the fundamental principle of biology, Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection. Darwin argued that families with harmful hereditary traits will die out over time. They would be replaced by lineages whose hereditary constitution better enables them to survive and reproduce.

Although Ewald is attempting to revolutionize the practice of medicine, he has made sure that lay readers will find his book interesting and intelligible. He believes that patients are often more open-minded than their doctors.

In an interview, Ewald claimed that the health benefits of the Human Genome Project are over hyped because “Most diseases aren’t genetic.” He claimed that spending on improving antibiotics would bring greater payoffs than spending on the glamour field of genetic research.

via Steve Sailer

Run! There’s a trillionth of a benzene!
Biology might offer better clues to disease than chemistry too.

Ewald points to the obvious when he notes that before we were pouring billions into DNA labs, we were looking for chemicals that might trigger disease. Yet, our age old scourge of germs and their toxins remain, inviting communities of trouble in our bodies — while the research remains underfunded.

Historically, infectious agents have been harder to identify than nonliving poisons as the cause of diseases because germs can evolve ways to hide. Simple chemicals cannot.

We can evolve new defenses, says Ewald, against both bad genes and bad germs. What makes infections more dangerous than genes, however, is that germs can fight back. They can counter our new resistance strategies by evolving news methods of attack against us.

As a close analogy, consider one of our artificial defenses, penicillin. It is less effective today than in 1950 because today’s germs tend to be descended from the germs that had the right stuff for surviving onslaughts of penicillin.

Most diseases that are both widespread and nasty, like AIDS, malaria, and syphilis have already been identified as infectious. Yet, suspicions have only recently turned toward infections as the origin of some of the most devastating chronic diseases, such as atherosclerosis (heart disease) and breast cancer.