Stranger Fruit

Live Longer With Evolution

Michael Rose has been working on the problem of senescence (why organisms age) since the 1970’s. Today’s NYT Science Times carries an interview with him.

Q. You are an evolutionary biologist by profession. As a researcher trained mostly in Canada and England, are you astonished by the American battles over Darwinism?

A. Not since coming to California. In 1987, the first day I ever gave a class at Irvine, there was a riot in my classroom. I was introducing the basic principles of evolution, and pandemonium broke out – yelling, students pounding the tables. That was the day I learned about evolution in America.

Recently, I was watching President Bush speak on the potential bird flu epidemic. Pandemic bird flu is exactly a question of evolutionary biology because grave danger will come only if the virus evolves into a form that can spread from human to human.

Of course, Bush couldn’t use the word evolution. There were a few key points where I was waiting for him to use the word. Nope! The virus would “develop” the ability to move from human to human. He couldn’t use the word evolve because that’s a dangerous word.

People in the United States probably don’t realize they risk their lives by rejecting evolutionary biology. In the case of avian flu, this could kill people very directly. With aging, the essential tools for solving it are located in evolutionary biology.