Developmental plasticity: Bridging research in evolution and human health.

Journal Article (Review;Journal Article)

Early life experiences can have profound and persistent effects on traits expressed throughout the life course, with consequences for later life behavior, disease risk, and mortality rates. The shaping of later life traits by early life environments, known as 'developmental plasticity', has been well-documented in humans and non-human animals, and has consequently captured the attention of both evolutionary biologists and researchers studying human health. Importantly, the parallel significance of developmental plasticity across multiple fields presents a timely opportunity to build a comprehensive understanding of this phenomenon. We aim to facilitate this goal by highlighting key outstanding questions shared by both evolutionary and health researchers, and by identifying theory and empirical work from both research traditions that is designed to address these questions. Specifically, we focus on: (i) evolutionary explanations for developmental plasticity, (ii) the genetics of developmental plasticity and (iii) the molecular mechanisms that mediate developmental plasticity. In each section, we emphasize the conceptual gains in human health and evolutionary biology that would follow from filling current knowledge gaps using interdisciplinary approaches. We encourage researchers interested in developmental plasticity to evaluate their own work in light of research from diverse fields, with the ultimate goal of establishing a cross-disciplinary understanding of developmental plasticity.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Lea, AJ; Tung, J; Archie, EA; Alberts, SC

Published Date

  • January 2017

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 2017 / 1

Start / End Page

  • 162 - 175

PubMed ID

  • 29424834

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC5798083

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 2050-6201

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 2050-6201

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1093/emph/eox019


  • eng