Why You and Your iPod Must Die

By Katie

This blog was originally published on January 7, 2008.

Photo source: Tonystl

I caught your attention, right? Well, I’ve just finished Survival of the Sickest by Dr. Sharon Moalem and the title of this blog was the title of the last chapter. It might give you a bit of insight to the way that the book is written.

To begin, let me tell you that you MUST read this book! It was amazing! It talks about why we have deadly diseases programmed in our DNA and much more. However, for those of us that are intimidated by long scientific-sounding words, do not shy away from this book. It addresses huge concepts in simple language. It is written in such a laid back tone that I sometimes forgot that it was explaining some major evolutionary points.

In ninth grade biology, we talked about the ultimate goal of all living things: Survive to Reproduce! Well, if we are to do so, why would we keep the gene that contains hereditary disease running through our population? “Why would you take a pill that was guaranteed to kill you in forty years? Because it will save you tomorrow.” (Moalem, 4)

This book goes into many other topics having to do with evolution. For example, in the chapter “A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Temperature Go Down,” (Moalem, 23) he asks why people have diabetes. In another chapter, “That’s Life: Why You and Your iPod Must Die,” (Moalem, 183) Dr. Moalem asks the question: Are we programmed to die?

In the 1960’s, Leonard Hayflick discovered “that (with one special exception) cells divide only a certain number of times before they up and quit,” (Moalem, 185). That is because at the end of chromosomes there is a “genetic buffer,” telomeres. Some DNA is lost every time a cell reproduces. So, chromosomes have this extra information at their tips. That way, the important information is not lost. However, when a cell replicates as many times as it can without losing valuable DNA, this valuable DNA is at risk, so the cells commit suicide. Now, why on earth would our bodies do that? They do it because of cancer.

This limit on cellular reproduction stops cells containing cancer from spreading throughout the body, allowing us to survive long enough to reproduce. When the cells are done replicating, that’s it. We’ve served our evolutionary purpose.

Unfortunately, successful cancer cells have made the cell abandon its suicide command so that, like stem cells, they are “immortal.” Cancer cells also want to survive to reproduce.

After talking about things like these, this book then asks what can be done with this knowledge. Is this how we can bring an end to diabetes? Is this where we can find the cure to cancer?

“…who knows? If we don’t ask, we’ll never find out.” (Moalem, 206)

Take a look at this link to read a nice summary.

Check out this link for even more links to hear more about this book.

Go here if you would like to read some excerpts.

Moalem, Sharon, and Jonathan Prince. Survival of the Sickest. 1st ed. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.

  • Anonymous

    This was a really interesting post, and I think I might even read the book during the Summer. I also did a little bit of research and found that scientists found that a certain protein can re-trigger the “cell suicide” gene in certain cancer cells. This would be great for targeted cancer treatment, to a smaller, more specific area with cancer.

  • Anonymous

    Fascinating post !
    I was particularly interested in a point in this raised, “why would we keep the gene that contains hereditary disease running through our population?”
    Well, in class we had a long discussion about why we haven’t eliminated diseases through natural selection, what I have come to learn is that while these diseases may be a bump in the road for us now, years ago they helped our ancestors to survive to reproduce.
    For example, sickle cell anemia, a condition in which there aren’t enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen throughout your body. Sickle cell anemia can slow or block blood flow throughout the body. This may sound like an entirely bad condition, but a benefit of this condition does, in fact, exist.
    People with sickle cell anemia are immune to malaria. This benefits people in areas where malaria is common, therefor it will be more pronounced in the population as it helps inhabitants of this area survive.

  • Anonymous

    This was a great post on the book Survival of the Sickest! I really liked how it wasn’t too in depth with scientific terms, but just enough for biology purposes! This post actually inspires me to read into some of the excerpts that Katie mentioned up above.
    I read a section from the last chapter, Thats Life: Why you and your ipod must die, describing a very rare disorder known as progeria syndrome. Here is the excerpt that particularly interested me:

    Seth has Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, often just called progeria. Progeria is very rare—thought to occur in just 1 of every 4 to 8 million births. It’s also very unfair; the word comes from the Greek for prematurely old, and that’s the difficult fate in store for people born with it. Children who have progeria age at up to ten times the speed of people without it. By the time a baby who has progeria is about a year and a half old, his or her skin starts to wrinkle and their hair starts to fall out. Cardiovascular problems, like hardening of the arteries, and degenerative diseases, like arthritis, soon follow. Most people who have progeria die in their teens of a heart attack or a stroke; nobody is known to have lived past thirty.

    I thought that this was so sad to read about because it described a 12-year-old boy who in reality was an old man. It was really depressing to read about, but Moalem has definitely taught me something already! I’ve learned that there are these heart-breaking diseases that particularly occur in younger people because they are a rapid growth in age, but at the same times scientists and researchers are finally looking more into these diseases and doing studies to test for new advances and cures. Now, how does this relate to evolution? Well, Moalem suggests that disorders like progeria are preprogrammed in a human’s genetic code, and that aging has everything to do with evolution. Just like Katie mentioned cells being preprogrammed to divide a specific number of times, humans are programmed to age at a specific rate. Progeria is a mutation in, for example, Seth’s genetic code for aging and so he matures and ages at a much faster rate. Its sad to think about Seth’s disorder, but the very few who suffer from age disorders are in some way helping the science community learn more about DNA, evolution, and if humans are preprogrammed to die.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, interesting post! I researched more about cells that re-trigger “cell suicide” (also known as Program Suicide) and all cell suicide is, a death of a cell in any form, mediated by an intracellular program. In contrast to necrosis, which is a form of cell-death that results from acute tissue injury and provokes an inflammatory response, PCD is carried out in a regulated process which generally confers advantage during an organism’s life-cycle. PCD serves fundamental functions during both plant and metazoa (multicellular animals) tissue development.

    you can read lot about it here:

  • Anonymous

    David Bakish, a psychiatrist at the Royal Ottawa Hospital. Bakish studied patients who had a family history of suicide and could not stop thinking about killing themselves. The patients’ brain cells had changed in an apparent attempt to make up for a lower than normal amount of a common brain chemical serotonin. “That’s when the light bulb went off,” Bakish said, who thinks depression may not be the only cause of suicide. “Maybe it’s a genetic trait.” If this is true, the implications for the study and treatment of suicidal individuals are significant.
    They conducted a study for over ten years and found remarkable results. “A depressed individual with a mutation in the gene encoding the serotonin 5-HT2A receptor are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide as those who suffered from depression but did not carry the mutation”, said Pavel Hrdina, a neurobiologist at the Royal Ottawa Hospital and study co-author. This means that antidepressants may not be causing suicidal thoughts.
    Dr. Lisheng Du, the team’s molecular geneticist analyzed blood samples from the patients and from 131 control subjects with no history of mental illness or substance abuse and 120 patients with persistent suicidal fantasies. The results proved the previous findings. 41% of the 120 suicidal patients had the mutilation and only 18% of the control group had it. This means that giving the patients whom have the mutilation antidepressants wouldn’t be the ultimate cause of the suicide. This eventually could save lives by cutting down the high rate of suicides worldwide.

  • http://extremebiology.net/blog Ms Baker


  • Anonymous
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