Biological Individuality

Roger J. Williams

Williams responded oddly to an injection of morphine during an operation. It did not as expected put him to sleep but made him feel wide awake. This and other observations kindled an interest in biological variation. As he searched there was a single overriding finding. Everyone was different. Fingerprint identification depends on the relative uniqueness of ridge patterns in the skin of the fingers and palms.  However, this exclusivity extends to our whole bodies, from basic molecules to personality.  Williams realised that the recognition of human individuality was key to understanding health and disease.

Unless you are an identical twin, triplet, quad, etc you are genetically unique. No other person on earth has the same genes as you. Your physiology is unique, even if you are an identical twin. From your time as a single cell in the womb, no other person has had the same experience as you. Even identical twins can have different genes switched on or off.

Biochemical Individuality

Ignoring the Obvious

Williams published Biochemical Individuality in 1956 and described how humans vary dramatically at the molecular, physiological, and anatomical levels. Such variation is expected both from evolution and the need for a viable biological population.

Despite this modern medicine has been concerned with statistical aggregates.  This approach is most apparent in the development of “evidence-based” medicine where recommendations come from the behaviour of groups in clinical trials. Variation is a characteristic of life and that includes humans. The one size fits all approach of current medicine means that everyone gets poor treatment.


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