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Q Rev Biol. 2001 Dec;76(4):417-32.

Evolution in health and disease: work in progress.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University New Haven, Connecticut 06520-8106, USA.


This article surveys progress in Darwinian medicine since 1991. Evolutionary thinking has been providing an increasing flow of fresh ideas into medical science, ideas that would not be suggested by other perspectives. Recent contributions have shed new light on the evolution of virulence, of antibiotic resistance, of oocytic atresia, of menopause, of the timing of the expression of genetic disease, of links between mate choice and disease resistance, and of genomic conflict between mother and fetus over resource provisioning. An important consequence of changes from the environment of evolutionary adaptedness concerns reproductive cancers; the incidence of reproductive cancers may be linked to changes in the frequency of menstruation in postindustrial societies. Other intriguing developments include some unanticipated and undesirable consequences of good hygiene, hope from an unexpected quarter for progress on nerve and muscle regeneration, evolutionary interpretations of mental disease, and insights from functional genomics into the nature of tradeoffs. The application of evolutionary thinking to problems in medical research and practice has thus yielded an abundant and growing harvest of insights. Some are well founded, others remain speculative. The field is moving from an initial phase dominated by speculation and hypothesis formation into a more rigorous phase of experimental testing of explicit alternatives. Currently the most promising areas, those in which experimental rigor can be applied efficiently, include experimental evolution and functional genomics. The pioneers can be proud of what they have set in motion.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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