Book Review: Survival of the Sickest, by Sharon Moalem,2007

Harper/Collins Publishers. 267 pp.

Review by Wm Olkowski, PhD

This is a hard book to categorize since it intertwines genetics, medicine, microbiology and parasitology, evolution of our microbial symbionts, and pathogens and epigenetics. This most informative volume covers some common human diseases showing how our earlier survival was dependent upon genetic changes now expressed as diseases such as: hemochromatosis, diabetes, high cholesterol, favism, autoimmune diseases, and aging. For example, people with a predisposition to high blood sugar are now classified as diabetics. But at one time this predisposition to high blood sugar helped pregnant mothers keep their developing fetus alive during famines. The fetus is most sensitive to glucose during brain development; a shortage would mean miscarriage or birth defects. Along the way through the book you get an update on your genetic education while learning the latest about diseases like bubonic plague, diabetes, heart disease, malaria, as well as probiotics and common symbionts and various genetic problems. The chapters are like bite-sized lectures. But there is much more. For instance, check out the water birthing primates and jumping genes.

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