Show Summary Details
Page of

Evolution: medicine’s most basic science 

Evolution: medicine’s most basic science

Chapter:
Evolution: medicine’s most basic science
Author(s):

Randolph M. Nesse

and Richard Dawkins

DOI:
10.1093/med/9780199204854.003.020102_update_002

Update:

June 2014—this chapter has been re-evaluated and remains up to date; new website links of relevance have been added.

Updated on 28 Aug 2014. The previous version of this content can be found here.
Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD MEDICINE ONLINE (www.oxfordmedicine.com). © Oxford University Press, 2015. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford Medicine Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).

date: 24 April 2017

The role of evolutionary biology as a basic science for medicine has been expanding rapidly. Some evolutionary methods are already widely applied in medicine, such as population genetics and methods for analysing phylogenetic trees. Newer applications come from seeking evolutionary as well as proximate explanations for disease. Traditional medical research has been restricted to proximate studies of the body’s mechanism. However, separate evolutionary explanations are also needed for why natural selection has left many aspects of the body vulnerable to disease. There are six main possibilities: mismatch, infection, constraints, trade-offs, reproduction at the cost of health, and adaptive defences. Like other basic sciences, evolutionary biology has limited direct clinical implications, but it provides essential research methods, it encourages asking new questions that foster a deeper understanding of disease, and it provides a framework that organizes the facts of medicine. Physicians who understand evolution recognize that bodies are not designed machines, but jury-rigged products of millions of years of natural selection that work remarkably well, given that no trait can be perfect, and that selection maximizes reproduction, not health.

Acknowledgement. Thanks to the Berlin Institute for Advanced Study for providing a fellowship to RMN that made preparation of this chapter possible.

Access to the complete content on Oxford Medicine Online requires a subscription or purchase. Public users are able to search the site and view the abstracts for each book and chapter without a subscription.

Please subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you have purchased a print title that contains an access token, please see the token for information about how to register your code.

For questions on access or troubleshooting, please check our FAQs, and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us.