Researchers are intelligently designing techniques to combat mutations that cause neurological disorders. If evolution works according to the standard neo-Darwinian model of time + selection + mutation, then why are we interfering with the process? Shouldn’t we let evolution run its course? Perhaps these diseased individuals would grow a new organ or something, and become the next step in our naturally upward progression from hydrogen to human and beyond.
It seems that such evolutionary philosophy becomes practically unlivable. Rather than let ”evolution” take its course, researchers are thankfully taking steps to remedy mutations’ harmful effects.
Nature News reported on June 41 the successful treatment of mice that are born with a mutation that prevents myelin from forming around their nerve cells. Without myelin, the mice live tortured, short lives. Myelin-related disorders in humans include multiple sclerosis and adrenoleukodystrophy. The lead researcher of the study, Stephen Goldman from the University of Rochester in New York, described these as “awful, awful diseases.”
His treatment involved injecting human nervous tissue stem cells into the spinal cords of newborn mice. Untreated mice with this mutation typically died young, but some of the treated mice grew myelin and were normalizing as they developed. The successful stem cells were harvested not from human embryos, but from human adults.
As always, the mutation in these mice represents a loss of valuable genetic information. It is this very loss that these researchers are seeking to restore with stem cell treatments. Does anybody else find it ironic that biomedical researchers are pouring their lives into reversing the effects of mutations, after having been taught in our universities and medical schools that mutations are the essential engines of evolution? Perhaps time + selection + mutation isn’t such a good formula after all.
1. Sanderson, K. Human cells used to cure brain disease in mice. Nature News. Posted on nature.com June 4, 2008, accessed June 6, 2008.
* Mr. Thomas is Science Writer.
Article posted on June 12, 2008.