Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Evo-med update Study of dinosaurs part of Pitt Medical School plan to graduate better doctors

Back pain, knee problems, hernias – these are just a few of today's more common medical ailments whose roots can be traced back millions of years, when our human ancestors evolved from walking on all fours to standing on their two hind legs. Cancer can be dated back even further – Carnegie Museum of Natural History researchers have proof by way of a 150-million-year-old Jurassic dinosaur bone, its tumor still preserved.

Understanding the origins of human diseases could help identify fresh avenues toward their prevention and treatment. At the very least, an appreciation of the evolutionary history of humans and other animals should make for better medical doctors and physician-scientists, which is why the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine is collaborating with Carnegie Museum of Natural History to offer its students educational and research opportunities unlike any available at other medical schools. The partnership, the Natural History of Medicine Initiative, is the first of its kind involving a medical school and natural history museum.

Younger Dryas update A paper discussing possible causes of the Younger Dryas. In recent years, opinion has been that the Younger was initiated by an influx of fresh water from Lake Agassiz that shut down the Gulf Stream; the so-called "thermohaline shutdown" model:


Preliminary results indicate that ice recession at both outlet areas is later than supposed, and that large volumes of meltwater were not catastrophically released from Lake Agassiz at the beginning of the Younger Dryas. Thus, if the Lake Agassiz floods did not upset the circulation pattern, the question becomes: What did? Could other pathways of the hydrological cycle alter the thermohaline circulation pattern at the beginning of the Younger Dryas, or alter other climate fluctuations that preceded Lake Agassiz?

These investigations indicate that the geological understanding of past abrupt climate changes is only preliminary. This does not bode well for predicting future, abrupt climate changes.