Evolution and MedicineHow New Applications Advance Research and Practice

Launched October 2007 Updated November 2023 54 lectures
Prof. Randolph Nesse
University of Michigan, USA

Evolutionary biology is the acknowledged foundation for all of biology, but its applications to medicine are only now being developed fully. This series describes how the major principles of evolutionary biology are being applied to the problems of medicine. Some, such as antibiotic resistance, have long been recognized, but modern... read moreevolutionary approaches offer new insights with practical applications. Other areas of rapid advance in medicine, such as genetics, derive major benefits from new advances in evolutionary biology.

In addition to the benefits of bringing specific evolutionary principles to bear on diverse problems in medicine, recognition is growing about the general need to seek evolutionary as well as proximate explanations for every biological trait. Most medical research offers only proximate explanations of how an aspect of the body works. A full biological explanation also requires an evolutionary explanation of the selection forces that shaped the trait. For many traits that leave the body vulnerable to disease, such evolutionary explanations are just now being developed.

The results have some immediate clinical applications, but their impact will be most profound in the long run as they suggest new studies, and as physicians gradually recognize that the body is not a machine with occasional design flaws, but is instead a bundle of trade-offs shaped by selection for whatever genes maximize reproductive success.

This lecture series will provide a definitive summary of the current state of this new field and its promising future directions.