2. A short history of biomedicine

We’ve come a long way in improving human health. The last five decades have revealed more about the biology of life than any other period before. This chapter sketches remarkable historical triumphs in molecular biology and related sciences. We need this understanding to appreciate the foundations on which biomedicine rests today and builds tomorrow.

Before the twentieth century, life was brutal, disease ridden, and often short. The major causes of death were childbirth and all kinds of infectious diseases, the latter often coming in the form of plagues that killed millions (see the following sidebar).

Malnutrition was especially rampant and greatly increased people’s susceptibility to disease. In the 1800s, ...

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