In the past I often said that the importance of evolutionary biology is not measurable in the hard currency of human welfare—that evolution’s value was not in making us richer or healthier, but in giving us the true story of how we got here and when, and who we’re related to. I’ve tempered that opinion over the years as I’ve become aware of the real contributions evolutionary biology has made to medicine (see for example my exchange with David Hillis).
In today’s New York Times, Carl Zimmer gives further evidence of how evolution is advancing medicine. Zimmer tells the story of Ed Marcotte at the University of Texas, and how his work on yeast, combined with the concept of deep homology between yeast and human genes, has enormous promise for medicine—everything from cancer to genetic defects. It involves going back and forth between species, with the iterations finding ever more genes that might be involved in human diseases; and it all rests on the proposition that genes in humans that do one thing might be evolutionarily related to genes in other species that do different things. (This, of course, is one of the observations that has been used to refute Intelligent Design’s notion of “irreducible complexity.”)
It’s way cool.