Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Ongoing human evolution could explain recent rise in certain disorders

Date:
January 11, 2010
Source:
Harvard University
Summary:
Evolutionary pressures could explain the seeming rise of disorders such as autism and autoimmune diseases, researchers report. The scientists also suggest that evolutionary perspectives should be integrated into medical school curricula, to help future physicians consider health problems from an evolutionary perspective.

New research suggests that certain adaptations that once benefited humans may now be helping such ailments persist in spite of -- or perhaps because of -- advancements in modern culture and medicine.
Credit: iStockphoto/Mads Abildgaard

The subtle but ongoing pressures of human evolution could explain the seeming rise of disorders such as autism, autoimmune diseases, and reproductive cancers, researchers write in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Certain adaptations that once benefited humans may now be helping such ailments persist in spite of -- or perhaps because of -- advancements in modern culture and medicine.

"This work points out linkages within the plethora of new information in human genetics and the implications for human biology and public health, and also illustrates how one could teach these perspectives in medical and premedical curricula," says author Peter Ellison, John Cowles Professor of Anthropology at Harvard University.

Ellison's co-authors are Stephen Stearns of Yale University, Randolph Nesse of the University of Michigan, and Diddahally Govindaraju of the Boston University School of Medicine. The research was first presented at the Arthur M. Sackler Colloquium, co-sponsored by the National Academy of Science and the Institute of Medicine.

Colloquium presentations described in the current paper include research suggesting that:

  • Autism and schizophrenia may be associated with the over-expression of paternally or maternally derived genes and influences, a hypothesis advanced by Bernard Crespi of Simon Fraser University.
  • Maternal and paternal genes engage in a subtle tug-of-war well into childhood with consequences for childhood development, as posited by David Haig, George Putnam Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard.
  • Humans may be susceptible to allergies, asthma, and autoimmune diseases because of increased hygiene, according to Kathleen Barnes of Johns Hopkins University. Without being exposed to intestinal worms and parasites, as our ancestors were, our immune systems are hypersensitive.
  • Natural selection still influences our biology, despite advances in modern culture and medicine. Stearns found that natural selection favors heavier women and reduces the age at which a woman has her first child.

In the final presentation of the colloquium, researchers called for the integration of evolutionary perspectives into medical school curricula, to help future physicians consider health problems from an evolutionary perspective.

"We're trying to design ways to educate physicians who will have a broader perspective and not think of the human body as a perfectly designed machine," says Ellison. "Our biology is the result of many of evolutionary trade-offs, and understanding these histories and conflicts can really help the physician understand why we get sick and what we might do to stay healthy."

Previous work in evolutionary medicine helped explain why disease is so prevalent and difficult to prevent -- because natural selection favors reproduction over health, biology evolves more slowly than culture, and pathogens evolve more quickly than humans.

"I think that the main take-home point is that evolution and medicine really do have things to say to each other, and some of these insights actually reduce suffering and save lives," says Stearns.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Harvard University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Randolph M. Nesse, Carl T. Bergstrom, Peter T. Ellison, Jeffrey S. Flier, Peter Gluckman, Diddahally R. Govindaraju, Dietrich Niethammer, Gilbert S. Omenn, Robert L. Perlman, Mark D. Schwartz, Mark G. Thomas, Stephen C. Stearns, and David Valle. Evolution in Health and Medicine Sackler Colloquium: Making evolutionary biology a basic science for medicine. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2009; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0906224106

Cite This Page:

Harvard University. "Ongoing human evolution could explain recent rise in certain disorders." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 January 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100111102538.htm>.
Harvard University. (2010, January 11). Ongoing human evolution could explain recent rise in certain disorders. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100111102538.htm
Harvard University. "Ongoing human evolution could explain recent rise in certain disorders." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100111102538.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

Share This




More Fossils & Ruins News

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre

Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre

AP (July 29, 2014) Food scraps and other items left on the grounds by picnickers brings unwelcome visitors to the grounds of the world famous and popular Louvre Museum in Paris. (July 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
London's Famed 'Gherkin' Goes on Sale for 650 Mln

London's Famed 'Gherkin' Goes on Sale for 650 Mln

AFP (July 29, 2014) London's "Gherkin" office tower, one of the landmarks on the British capital's skyline, went on sale for about 650 million ($1.1 billion, 820 million euros) on Tuesday after being placed into receivership. Duration: 00:36 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Newsy (July 28, 2014) The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs struck at the worst time for them. A new study says that if it hit earlier or later, they might've survived. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Tourists Disappointed to Find Rome Attractions Under Restoration

Tourists Disappointed to Find Rome Attractions Under Restoration

AFP (July 26, 2014) Tourists visiting Italy at the peak of the summer season are disappointed to find some of Rome's most famous attractions being restored and offering limited access. Duration: 01:01 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile: iPhone Android Web
      Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins