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Open Access Review

New perspectives on evolutionary medicine: the relevance of microevolution for human health and disease

Frank Jakobus Rühli1* and Maciej Henneberg2

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Evolutionary Medicine, Institute of Anatomy, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, Zürich, 8057, Switzerland

2 Biological Anthropology and Comparative Anatomy Unit, The University of Adelaide, Frome Road, Adelaide 5005, Australia

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BMC Medicine 2013, 11:115  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-11-115

Published: 29 April 2013

Abstract

Evolutionary medicine (EM) is a growing field focusing on the evolutionary basis of human diseases and their changes through time. To date, the majority of EM studies have used pure theories of hominin macroevolution to explain the present-day state of human health. Here, we propose a different approach by addressing more empirical and health-oriented research concerning past, current and future microevolutionary changes of human structure, functions and pathologies. Studying generation-to-generation changes of human morphology that occurred in historical times, and still occur in present-day populations under the forces of evolution, helps to explain medical conditions and warns clinicians that their current practices may influence future humans. Also, analyzing historic tissue specimens such as mummies is crucial in order to address the molecular evolution of pathogens, of the human genome, and their coadaptations.

Keywords:
anatomical variation; empirical; evolutionary medicine; microevolution; mortality; pathology; secular trends