Monday, February 20, 2012

Thoughts on the Geritol Solution?

In Survival of the Sickest, Dr. Sharon Moalem explores the evolutionary perseverance of widespread modern diseases (diabetes, high cholesterol, etc.) She aims to explain why such a trait has been evolutionarily conserved despite its possibly fatal effects. To do this, she answers her own question:

“Why would you take a drug that is guaranteed to kill you in forty years? One reason, right? It’s the only thing that will stop you from dying tomorrow. (14)”

In many ways, this quote is the essence of the first give chapters of her book. It serves its primary purpose as a jumping point to thinking about disease over the course of evolution. Because of its ability to instantly evoke a more detailed thought process, I also see it as a preview of her exploration of the interconnected nature of evolution and the environment.
Moalem begins with the example of the disorder hemochromatosis, which is characterized by the chronic buildup of iron in the bloodstream. She explains how this could have been evolutionarily favorable at one point in history (specifically, during the Bubonic plague) because of iron’s ability to enhance the immune system through the “iron-locking” response. She goes into great detail of the biochemical nuances of iron, giving multiple examples of how it can be both essential and fatal.
It is mentioned that iron is necessary for microbial life. She briefly mentions the Geritol Solution, which is the idea that dumpling iron into the ocean will stimulate microbial oxygen production and can therefore counter rising atmospheric CO2 levels. Moalem does not take a position on this idea and does not elaborate on it much, but it stuck in my mind as being a particularly shortsighted concept.
One of the main ideas that I took away from the first half of Survival of the Sickest was concerning how changes in the environment could have had long lasting effects on evolution and the genetic makeup of society. From the previous readings we’ve done in class, we’re all well aware of the ability of the environment to allow a genetic disposition to manifest as disease. I feel that this way of thinking about the effect of environmental factors is in disagreement with the principles behind the Geritol Solution. Dumping artificially huge amounts of iron in the ocean could have disastrous side effects on the environment, and the therefore altered environment could then have long lasting consequences on health and society.
I can understand that Moalem’s reference to the Geritol Solution was purely to illustrate the effects of iron, but the concept just struck me as being especially odd.

1 comment:

  1. I was also intrigued by Moalem’s mention of the Geritol Solution. While she mentions that an experiment used to test this idea resulted in the ocean water turning from “sparkling blue to murky green overnight” due to the exponential growth of phytoplankton, there was a significant decrease in the carbon dioxide concentration in the water and the water did return to its natural condition. However, I definitely agree that an idea such as the Geritol theory has too many unknown variables that could damage life on earth to ever be employed as a realistic solution to global warming. While the phytoplankton do absorb the carbon dioxide, it is not known what happens after absorption. It is possible that the gas stays in the ocean, but it is just as possible that it is later released into the atmosphere. Too many phytotplankton could be, as Moalem states, "too much of a good thing." It is also impossible to know what would occur if such a method was used on a large scale. Such unknown consequences make it difficult to imagine actually implementing such a plan.