Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Biomedical Science

First Advisor

John Eberth


The integration of evolutionary biology with traditional medicine can elucidate novel mechanisms of contemporary disease. Whereas the goal of traditional medicine is to treat and cure the proximate causes, evolutionary biology aims to understand the driving forces behind why humans are susceptible to disease. To form the basis of this hypothesis we postulate that modern man's current genetic information was programmed at a time, and in an environment, that is not relevant to today's human populations. The discordance between these genes of our ancestors and the environment of contemporary humans is thought to be a major reason for the increase in chronic diseases. Accordingly, the "Old Friends" Hypothesis is presented here to help understand the environment in which our ancestors evolved, emphasizing the relationship between humans and microorganisms that have an adaptive role in the human immune system. Furthermore, as societies and civilizations progressed throughout history, the human disease-scape began to change. The rise in epidemic infectious disease is tied to the advent of agriculture, and continues to be a major cause of mortality in developing nations. In Westernized nations mortality from infectious disease has decreased and life expectancy has nearly doubled in the last century. However, quality of life for many has diminished by the emergence of complex, chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, and type II diabetes. Current research supports the idea that an understanding of the evolutionary history of humans and their pathogens can be used as a complement to traditional approaches in disease treatment and prevention.


© 2014, John Eberth