The Evolution & Medicine Review

Principles of evolutionary medicine

by Peter Gluckman, Alan Beedle and Mark Hanson

The evolutionary medicine community has long emphasized the need to teach evolution in relation to medicine to medical students. In their efforts to bring evolution into medical schools, advocates of evolutionary medicine encountered various obstacles. These ranged from the unwillingness of school deans to commit ‘precious’ curriculum time to a new, uninstitutionalized subject, to a general lack of appreciation, within the medical community , of contribution that the knowledge of evolution may make to medicine. One obstacle that received less attention was the lack of an appropriate textbook. The field of evolutionary medicine by no means lacks good book-length studies-starting with Randolph Nesse’s and George C. William’s now classic Why we get sick or the more recent Evolution in health and disease, edited by Stephen C. Stearns and Jacob C. Koella-but none was written with medical students, who will know something about human disease but in most cases very little about evolution, as target audience in mind.

This gap should be filled by the new textbook by Peter Gluckman, Alan Beedle and Mark Hanson, Principles of evolutionary medicine, published this month by the Oxford University Press. The aim of the book is to cover the basics of evolutionary biology and then explain how human disease could be understood from an evolutionary viewpoint. The book is divided as follows:

Part 1. Fundamentals of evolutionary biology

Chapter 1. Introduction

Chapter 2. Evolutionary theory

Chapter 3. The molecular basis of variation and inheritance

Chapter 4. Evolution and development

Chapter 5. Evolution of life histories

Chapter 6. Human evolution and the origins of human diversity

Part 2. Understanding human disease from an evolutionary perspective

Chapter 7. Reproduction

Chapter 8. Nutrition and metabolic adaptation

Chapter 9. Defence

Chapter  10. Social organization and behaviour

Part 3. An evolutionary framework for health and disease

Chapter 11. Evolutionary principles applied to medical practice

Coda. Evolutionary medicine and society

A more detailed description of the content is available on the book website:

It is hoped that the book will be taken up by those teaching evolutionary medicine, and that it will provide a helpful argument to those who are trying to persuade medical schools to introduce a new course.