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San Diego Hosts Talks On Evolution And Medicine

San Diego Hosts Talks On Evolution And Medicine


Ajit Varki, co-director, Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny


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Photo by CARTA

The Center for Academic Research & Training in Anthropogeny is hosting a conference October 14 on medicine and health.

How can the very beginnings of human existence help us develop cutting-edge medical treatments?

Scientists will gather in San Diego Friday to discuss anthropogeny, the study of human origins, and how it sheds light on modern health. Ajit Varki, a UC San Diego cellular and molecular medicine professor and co-director of the Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny, said most medical school curriculums don't teach evolutionary biology, so his group's upcoming conference is vital.

Humans and chimps are so close genetically that you would expect us to have nearly the same diseases, Varki said. But even major killers, like heart disease, have significant differences across species. In humans, our coronary arteries get blocked, cutting off blood flow to the heart muscle. But in chimps, the disease more directly harms the muscle itself.

"If you do find a difference, since the genes are so similar, you have a reasonable chance of finding out the molecular mechanisms," Varki said. "We only realized this big difference 10 years ago. It's still early days."

The Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny's symposium will be held Friday afternoon at UC San Diego. Varki joins KPBS Midday Edition on Thursday to discuss what diseases seem to only affect humans and why natural selection hasn't eliminated genetic variations that make us susceptible to diseases.


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