Daily Data Dump

By Razib Khan | April 14, 2010 11:16 am

The Hunt for the Prozac Gene. For the record I don’t think most peoples’ depression today is rooted in biological factors. Rather there are some biases toward over-medication in American society, and “better living through chemistry” has made a come back (I used to much more pro-SSRI before I started seeing people I knew really well who were given anti-depressants almost as a precautionary matter by their doctors).

Duffy-Negative Blood Types No Longer Protected from P. Vivax Malaria. One difference between physical technology (wheel) and biological technology (domesticate breeding) is that the latter has to face the fact that “nature catches up.” In other words, biological impediments to human flourishing are adaptive thanks to evolution. In contrast, the utility of the wheel has not declined because the laws of physics have “adapted” to make it less efficacious. The paper reviewed in the press release suggests that the admixture between Duffy-negative and Duffy-positive (the latter of which is the state outside of Africa) ancestral populations among the Malagasy allowed for the emergence of the resistant strain. If I understand correctly the latter population served as an incubator of extant variation which eventually produced a strain which invaded the former. In contrast in areas where Duffy-negative is fixed the total number of pathogens is very low, so adaption has a smaller range of extant variation to select from. Population history may matter more in determining the arc of adaptation than we’ve thought. Another blow against evolutionary dynamics as thermodynamics.

Staffers’ accounts paint more detailed, troubling picture of Massa’s office. No surprise, more than “tickle fights.”

Mutation effects often depend on genetic milieu. Another strike at fixating too much on a gene as if it is an island; genetic background matters. This is why population identity as determined by evolutionary history (i.e., “race”) may still be important in understanding the effect of a gene on trait value even after we get total genomes sequenced. We won’t have omniscience as to interactions and other parameters for a while yet unless you believe Ray Kurzweil.

Maternal Deaths Decline Sharply Across the Globe. Life is getting better for most of the world. Something to keep in mind when we Americans bemoan the lack of real wage gains for the past 1.75 generations. Epicurius asserted that the pleasurable life was but the full stomach. How things have changed…. (Update: This may be a case of better living through better measurement.)

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Comments (8)

  1. Carl Shulman

    According to Aid Watch, the ‘decline’ is the result of comparing a new higher-quality assessment against more dubious past numbers acquired by different methods. Remember when the number of HIV/AIDS cases in India dropped by more than half due to improved measurement techniques?

  2. Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor)

    What do you think causes most depression today, if not biological factors?

  3. What do you think causes most depression today, if not biological factors

    i think most “depression” is a diagnosis of crappy things happening in life. we’ve gotten to the point today where everything has to be teh awesome. i know families which have put all their teenagers on anti-depressants. these are people i know well, and i when i dig deeper it turns out that, wait for it, being a teenager sucks!

    i do believe some people have genuine biochemical issues which either amplify, or are even insulated from, the vicissitudes of life. this sort of stuff has happened in the past:


  4. Jason Malloy

    “What do you think causes most depression today, if not biological factors?”

    The anti-depressant beget depression:

    “Fifty years ago, clinical depression was either endogenous (melancholic) or reactive (neurotic). Endogenous depression was a categorical biological condition with a low lifetime prevalence (1-2%)… When the first antidepressant (imipramine) was developed, manufacturer Geigy was reluctant to market it, judging there were insufficient people with depression.”

    Depression is a powerful psychosomatic nocebo response from being told by drug manufacturers that you have depression. The only cures are their little expensive sugar pills known as “anti-depressants”.

  5. me

    awesome links from Razib and Jason. thanks a lot guys, this is interesting stuff.

  6. Human Flesh

    Life experiences only feel good or bad because we have the biological tools to experience them as such. Events are rewarding or aversive (crappy if you prefer) insomuch as they affect nervous systems. Calling a life event objectively crappy is like calling a brussels sprout objectively tasty.

    A rational agent should seek to minimize suboptimal states. As tautological as it sounds, unpleasant states of affect are suboptimal. It seems that the alternative to “better living through chemistry” is ascetic posturing through abstinence.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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