The importance of evolution in medicine

January 14, 2010

An upcoming issue of PNAS has a special supplement on evolutionary medicine, with articles arising from the Arthur Sackler Colloquium on “Evolution in Health and Medicine” that was held last year. 

Evolutionary medicine is a relatively newly recognised field that applies the principles of evolutionary biology to understanding health and disease.  But medical science has in fact been making use of evolutionary biology for a long time – our understanding of things like viral transmission between species, antibiotic resistance, and geographic differences in disease susceptibility are all fundamentally based on evolutionary principles.  The applications of evolutionary biology to medicine are increasing, as shown by the diverse topics covered in the colloquium.

An article by co-authored by several leading researchers in evolutionary medicine, including Randolph Nesse, Carl Bergstrom and our own Peter Gluckman is particularly interesting –  making the case that evolutionary biology is a crucial basic science for medicine that should be taught to all medical students.  Nesse and colleagues point out that, not only are there direct applications of evolution to medicine, but that the principles of evolution apply to every biological system and level, providing a “unifying framework for interpreting biological phenomena”.   Read the rest of this entry »