Biology Professor on the Consequences of Having Evolved

December 20, 2010
By Cherry Crayton

More than a month has passed since an essay written by Rob Dunn, an assistant professor of biology at NC State, was published on Smithsonian.com. But it’s still the most popular story on the site — in terms of being the most viewed and the most commented on. The topic: The Top Ten Daily Consequences  of Having Evolved.

In the piece, Dunn writes, “Our own bodies are worse off than most simply because of the many differences between the wilderness in which we evolved and the modern world in which we live. We feel the consequences every day.” Those consequences range from hiccups and choking to obesity and being cold in the winter. Here’s the first item on the list:

1. Our cells are weird chimeras
Perhaps a billion years ago, a single-celled organism arose that would ultimately give rise to all of the plants and animals on Earth, including us. This ancestor was the result of a merging: one cell swallowed, imperfectly, another cell. The predator provided the outsides, the nucleus and most of the rest of the chimera. The prey became the mitochondrion, the cellular organ that produces energy. Most of the time, this ancient symbiosis proceeds amicably. But every so often, our mitochondria and their surrounding cells fight. The result is diseases, such as mitochondrial myopathies (a range of muscle diseases) or Leigh’s disease (which affects the central nervous system).

Read the full list and his explanation for each item here.

You may remember that Dunn, author of Every Little Thing: Man’s Obsessive Quest to Catalog Life, From Nanobacteria to New Monkeys, wrote an essay for NC State magazine in 2009 about the thousands of tiny species at work around us that we often don’t notice. Read that essay below:

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One Response to “Biology Professor on the Consequences of Having Evolved”

  1. J. W. Huey says:

    Dr. Dunn’s recent article on the Smithsonian’s website has given me an opportunity to ask someone who clearly knows whereof he speaks a question for which I have been seeking an answer for many years.

    Dr. Dunn indicates that all life arose from one single cell organism that resulted from one primitive organism devouring another perhaps one billion years ago. Here’s my question; Could this not have happened many times around the planet, resulting in a number of current life forms that are NOT related in any way? If we all descend from one organism every living thing on earth is a cousin, albeit distant but if not, well, that`s where I’m stumped.

    Many thanks if Dr. Dunn can sort this out for me.

    J. W. Huey

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