Gene-environment mismatch

It is thought that much human evolution occurred during the Pleistocene – 2.8 million to 12 thousand years ago. What are the consequences of genes optimized for a Pleistocene environment now expressed in the modern environment… radically different food, new technology, petro-chemicals, artificial light, drugs?

Novelty and extreme environments often cause disease. Lecture tuesday will explain how a variety of illnesses occur because of our “Pleistocene” genes.  Of course, our genes are also responsible for health, especially if we avoid particularly dangerous new exposures.

Can we predict which exposures might be dangerous?

Drugs of abuse, like cocaine, valium, marijuana, heroin, mimic endogenous neurotransmitters, or manipulate neurotransmitters that trigger reward pathways in the brain.

Close-up reading – of books and especially computer screens – mimics the near horizon. Caveman eyes that would otherwise spend 90% of the time at a distant focal point are entrained to close-up work – altering the development of the lens, eye shape, and retina.

Marketers and manufacturers often exploit caveman physiology. Gambling elicits the same reward pathways as recreational drugs. Casino gambling exploits the brain mechanisms that reward multiple small investments of time and effort with success in hunting and gathering, except that they artificially minimize the perceived costs and exaggerate the rewards.

Tuesday we will review and discuss a variety of health conditions that might result from gene-environment mismatch.

Click here for: Mismatch Slides

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