Faculty voice:

James Trosko: Finding New Solutions

Oct. 28, 2014

James Trosko is a professor of pediatrics and human development and part of the Center for Integrative Toxicology. His lab focuses on the mechanisms of carcinogenesis and mutagenesis.

The world is in a global health crisis. What is this crisis you ask? Health issues such as obesity and other associated metabolic diseases including diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disorders are plaguing our populations and draining our already scarce health care resources.

Other problems not commonly thought of as contributing to this issue can include birth defects, brain and behavioral disorders and needless human suffering as a result of wars or religious, economic and political philosophies.

The cause of this crisis is the result of a collision between our glacially slow biological evolution and the laser-speed cultural evolution.

It has taken millions of years for our pre-human ancestors to acquire the critical genes needed to generate energy for life from the physical environments in which they existed.

With the emergence of Homo sapiens, who created cultures by learning how to light fires, domesticate animals, farm and migrate to new environments, those that survived acquired genes and microorganisms in the stomach to adapt to foods from very different ecological conditions. Only within the last century have there been profound changes in how nutrition and diets have had profound effects on the current state of our global metabolic disease problem.

What was once a dietary pattern of low-caloric, natural, non-processed foods found by hunting and eaten at certain times of the day and season is now replaced with today’s modern dietary pattern of unlimited, high-caloric, processed foods that can be eaten all day, all year long.

So where does this lead us?

It leads us to two global bioethical questions.

How do we use scientific knowledge and modern technology either to prevent or to treat the current and projected metabolic disease crisis?

Can there be a universal nutritional diet for all genetically unique individuals throughout their developmental stages of life—fetus, newborn, adolescent, adult and geriatric?

In order to answer the last question, we must figure out ways to educate people about nutritional diets in the context of culturally shaped families, who are all different genetically and who eat foods limited by culture, economics and religion.

I don’t have the answers to all these questions, but it’s our obligation to collectively pull our academic knowledge and skills together and align them with other disciplines to try to find new solutions to these global health issues.

Read more from Trosko in Planet@Risk: Global Health Crisis Caused by the Collision of Biological and Cultural Evolution: Pre-Natal Influences on Acute and Chronic Diseases in Later Life