The endocrinology of human life history transitions

Published on October 1, 2007 Reviewed on October 9, 2015   46 min

Other Talks in the Series: Evolution and Medicine

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Hello. I'm Peter Ellison from the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University. This is a talk about The Endocrinology of Human Life History Transitions. A typical program in medical research
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begins with some problem in human health, some pathology. Consideration of this problem leads to hypotheses regarding the physiological processes that give rise to the pathology, and ways in which those processes might be modified. Data to test these hypotheses are usually derived from westernized urban populations, such as those in the vicinity of the centers of medical research. Evolutionary biologists, of whom I am one, don't follow this familiar paradigm. Indeed, my research interests do not focus on human health and disease in any particular way. I'm interested in human biology in much the same way that an ornithologist is interested in bird biology. Disease, although an important part of both bird and human biology, is after all only a small part of the whole, something that the ornithologist is happy to leave to the veterinarian. Rather than starting with questions of pathology, my research, and that of many other evolutionary human biologists, starts with questions stemming from evolutionary theory, questions about the design and function of the human organism. These questions give rise to hypotheses, about the physiological processes that express the design, much as in the medical research model. But for an evolutionary human biologist, western urbanized populations do not provide an adequate or often even in appropriate context for empirical research. Rather, we seek to understand human biology in reference to a broad spectrum of human ecologies, including those of our formative evolutionary past. Although human biological research is not essentially motivated by questions of health and disease, the results which are arrived at by this research paradigm, often have direct relevance to health and disease. I will touch on some of these in the course of this talk.
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The endocrinology of human life history transitions

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