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The theory of evolution suggests that all living beings are the result of a process known as evolution by natural selection. This process occurs whenever genetically influenced variation among a population affects reproductive success. For instance, a genetic mutation that causes greater vulnerability to disease will decrease in frequency compared to its alternative allele that causes greater resistance to disease.
It is thought that evolution by natural selection produced the functional design observed in living beings, known as adaptations, and therefore sickness and disease can be explained through a cost v. benefit analysis of physiological function. Understanding evolutionary design helps medicical researchers explain phenomena like: infections, injury, intoxication, genetic diseases, aging, allergy, problems during childbirth, cancer and mental disorders.
A well-known example of the application of evolutionary medicine is the study of the evolutionary arms race between the body's defenses and pathogens. Other examples include human populations that have certain disease susceptibilities that arose as comprises allowing their survival. These include, sickle cell anemia protecting against malaria and hemochromatosis protecting against the bubonic plague.
- Cosmides, L. & Tooby, J. (1999) Toward an evolutionary taxonomy of treatable conditions. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 108, 453-464.
- Ewald, P. W. (1996) Evolution of Infectious Disease. Oxford University Press, Oxford. ISBN 0-19-511139-7
- LeGrand E. K. & Brown C. C. (2002) Darwinian medicine: applications of evolutionary biology for veterinarians. Canadian Veterinary Journal, 43, 556-9. (PMID 12125190 full text)
- Nesse, R. M. and Williams, G. C. (1994) Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine. Vintage Books, New York. ISBN 0-679-74674-9
- Stiehm ER. (2006) Disease versus disease: how one disease may ameliorate another. Pediatrics, 117(1), 184-91. (PMID 16396876)
- Trevathan, W. R. (1999) Evolutionary Medicine. Oxford University Press, Oxford. ISBN 0-19-510356-4
- Williams, G. C. and Nesse, R. M. (1991) The dawn of Darwinian medicine. Quarterly Review of Biology, 66, 1-22.
- "Evolution and Medicine" website
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