Evolution in Health and Disease

Module Code: BS2071

Module co-ordinator: Dr Eamonn Mallon

The old chestnut says “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”. Given that medicine is a subset of biology, evolution must also be of importance to those interested in human health and disease. This module will provide you with the knowledge of evolutionary biology required to understand how the process of evolution affects traits in health and disease. We will look at specific examples of infectious disease, noninfectious disease and chronic conditions (e.g. ageing).

Practicals in this module will include:

  • Haploid and Diploid models of Natural selection
  • SIR modelling of infectious disease
  • Early dynamics of HIV
  • Phylogeny of Immunological Proteins
  • The life cycle of the cestode Schistocephalus solidus, and its effects on an intermediate host, the three spined stickleback.

Topics covered

Evolutionary basics

  • Adaptive evolution
  • Neutral evolution
  • The genetic impact of selection on populations
  • The origin and maintenance of genetic variation
  • The importance of development in evolution
  • The expression of variation
  • Sexual selection
  • Genomic conflict
  • Coevolution

Infectious diseases

  • Parasite host coevolution
  • Parasite effects on the host
  • Evolution of virulence
  • Vaccination
  • Antibiotic resistance
  • Parasites and sex
  • Parasites and humanity
  • Whole genome analysis of parasite evolution
  • Emergence of new infectious diseases

Non-infectious diseases

  • Cancer
  • Aging
  • Syndrome X
  • Evolutionary conflicts of pregnancy

Variation in health

  • Medically relevant variation in the human genome
  • Human behavioural ecology
  • MHC




  • Practicals (20%)
  • Essay (10%)
  • Exam, 3 hours (70%)