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Medical Ecology is an emerging science that defines those aspects of the environment that have a direct bearing on human health. The concept of ecosystem functions and services helps to describe global processes that contribute to our well-being, helping to cleanse the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. Environmental degradation often leads to alterations in these aspects, leading to various states of ill health. The term Medical Ecology was first coined by the eminent microbiologist, Rene Dubos, who intended it to embrace the concept that natural systems, if explored fully, would provide for many of our needs, as for example, quinine did regarding the treatment of malaria. Dubos discovered gramicidin in 1939, a powerful topical anti-microbial agent. Together with Alexander Fleming's discovery of penicillin in 1928, these findings led the way into the modern era of anti-microbial therapy, in which soil organisms played a dominant role.

Medical Ecology as described here is re-defined to a much broader level. We believe that ecological principles, when applied to the human condition will offer a resolution to the dichotomy of the "man versus nature" paradigm. In fact, humans are an integral part of nature, but most of the time we are unaware of our connectedness to the rest of the world. Medical Ecology links natural processes with living on earth, from the point of view of being human. The environment in which we live is characterized by countless physical, chemical, and biological systems, and it is in this complex setting that we carry out our lives, whether we are aware of them or not. The more aware of them we are, the more likely it is that we can avoid those situations that take away from our sense of well-being.

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Dickson Despommier, Ph.D. and Steven X. Chen
of the Division of Environmental Health Sciences
Mailman School of Public Health
Columbia University

 

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