Centre for Human Evolution, Adaptation and Disease
We use concepts from evolutionary and developmental biology to inform and interpret experimental and clinical research performed by the Liggins Institute and its international collaborators.
Our main interest is in evolutionary medicine, a field developing on the interface between evolutionary theory, medicine and public health. We use concepts from evolutionary and developmental biology to inform and interpret experimental and clinical research performed by the Liggins Institute and its international collaborators.
Members of our team have written the first textbook on evolutionary medicine: Principles of Evolutionary Medicine by Gluckman, Beedle and Hanson (Oxford University Press 2009).
One particular focus of our research is the role of developmental plasticity in shaping adult human health. Developmental plasticity refers to the ability of an organism early in life to take signals from its environment, make predictions about the world it will grow up in and adapt its development to suit. For example, babies that grow in a pre-birth environment where nutrient supplies are scarce adapt their development for what they perceive as a poor future. Problems arise, however, when this turns out not to be the case and they find themselves in a world of fast and fatty foods.
We apply this idea of ‘the plastic human’ to interpret the increasing prevalence of metabolic disorders such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, and to encourage policy makers to take a life course approach to prevention of these diseases.
In a "Viewpoint" article published in the world’s leading general medical journal The Lancet, Professor Peter Gluckman and a team of international experts describe how understanding the processes of early life development could be used to break multigenerational cycles of chronic disease and poverty. Gluckman PD et al. 2009 Lancet 373: 1654–7
In turn, we also use insights from experimental studies to explore theoretical issues in evolutionary and developmental biology, such as how developing organisms can show both plasticity and ‘robustness’ (insensitivity to the environment).
We are also interested in the historical understandings and shifts of the relationship between development and disease, and evolution and medicine.
Professor David Raubenheimer (Massey University, Albany)
Professor Hamish Spencer (University of Otago)
Tony Pleasants (AgResearch)
Dr Tanya Soboleva (AgResearch)
Professor Graeme Wake (Massey University, Albany)
Associate Professor Peter Dearden (University of Otago)
Professor Sir Patrick Bateson (University of Cambridge)
Professor Terrence Forrester (University of West Indies, Jamaica)
- Use of animal models to empirically test the developmental origins of health and disease hypothesis
- Changes in human reproductive aging: what are the mechanisms underlying the early onset of puberty?
- Development of early life epigenetic markers to provide prognostic tools for prediction of adult disease
- Nutritional adaptation in humans: lessons from early-life protein deficiency
- History of development and disease, and evolution and medicine