Mismatch: Why Our World No Longer Fits Our Bodies

Mismatch: Why Our World No Longer Fits Our Bodies

Mismatch: Why Our World No Longer Fits Our Bodies

Mismatch: Why Our World No Longer Fits Our Bodies

Synopsis

We have built a world that no longer fits our bodies. Our genes - selected through our evolution - and the many processes by which our development is tuned within the womb, limit our capacity to adapt to the modern urban lifestyle. There is a mismatch. We are seeing the impact of this mismatchin the explosion of diabetes, heart disease and obesity. But it also has consequences in earlier puberty and old age.Bringing together the latest scientific research in evolutionary biology, development, medicine, anthropology and ecology, Peter Gluckman and Mark Hanson, both leading medical scientists, argue that many of our problems as modern-day humans can be understood in terms of this fundamental and growingmismatch. It is an insight that we ignore at our peril.

Excerpt

At the end of the first chapter of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Mrs Shandy asks ‘Pray, my dear, have you not forgot to wind up the clock?’ to which Tristram’s distracted father responds: ‘Good G—! Did ever woman, since the creation of the world, interrupt a man with such a silly question?’ And once he is born, Tristram is trapped thereafter in a time-warp, his whole life (and the book about him) muddled by time. As he says, ‘I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly considered how much depended upon what they were then doing.’

Lawrence Sterne was writing in 1759. But this idea—that events at the time of conception, or during gestation, influence not only the outcome of a pregnancy but also the developing character of the child—has prevailed since earliest written records. There is evidence for this in cuneiform tablets from Sumer and in papyri from ancient Egypt. The Biblical account in Genesis when Jacob encourages the birth of speckled sheep (probably a genetically recessive characteristic) in Laban’s flock of pure whites, by showing them black and white whittled sticks at the moment of conception, suggests that this notion has been widely prevalent for a very long time indeed.

The discoveries of Gregor Mendel, the gardening monk from Brno who died in 1884, led to a more ‘rational’ understanding of inheritance. But the implications of his work were not fully accepted until well after his death, more than forty years after his original observations. His detailed experiments with around 28,000 pea plants eventually gave birth to the idea of the gene being the unit of inheritance, with the Laws of Inheritance named after him. That insight, and the rising importance of the theory of evolution promulgated by Charles Darwin, who died just two years before Mendel (and who may have just possibly known of his controversial work), led to a radical change in our ideas of inherited characteristics.

These ideas were not universally accepted very quickly. It took until the . . .

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