In the lab, we work hard to design experiments that help us understand the natural world. But sometimes, nature sets up experiments for us, and all we have to do is collect the data. These are called "natural experiments", and they have led to profound insights in every field of science. For example, Alzheimer's disease is not usually considered a genetic disorder. However, researchers have identified rare cases in which AD is inherited in a simple genetic manner. By identifying the genes involved, and what they do, we were able to increase our understanding of the molecular mechanisms of the disease.
The natural experiment I'll be discussing today began in 1989 with the onset of a major economic crisis in Cuba. This coincided with the loss of the Soviet Union as a trading partner, resulting in a massive economic collapse over the next six years, which gradually recovered through 2000.
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