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Why evolution matters

Evolutionary biology touches many topics of practical importance. It also investigates some fascinating questions. Here is a very selective shortlist.

There are many fascinating questions and practical problems that benefit from evolutionary research. While evolution has always been a fascinating topic, its huge practical consequences are now being appreciated more and more. Here is a small introductory list as to why evolution matters in day-to-day life. The list is obviously incomplete and we could not resist the temptation to list some fascinating questions too.

Practical applications

  • Understanding how species respond to environmental changes. Humans cause large changes to the environment of many species. Unless we understand how species react to what we change, we will have little chance of minimising our threat to other species.
  • Conservation biology. How can we help save endangered species? Many evolutionary questions are important here, if these species are to survive on the long term. On the short term the answer is simpler: Do not destroy the environment that they need to live. But a more precise answer already requires models in order to determine, for example, how much space exactly certain species need ....
  • Evolution of parasites. The parasites that cause diseases like malaria belong to the big killers of our time and evolutionary principles open a promising opportunity to fight them. The ever-changing threats of parasites can hardly be understood without a solid helping of evolutionary theory.
  • Evolution of antibiotic resistance is a growing threat. We have become used to having antibiotics around as effective drugs against dangerous bacterial infections. Currently bacteria are evolving towards increasing resistance to our known antibiotics. An evolutionary understanding of this process could turn out to be pivotal for designing reasonable strategies for the use of antibiotics in medicine and agriculture.
  • Cancer research. Cancer is ultimately an evolutionary phenomenon, as a few replicating cells in the body evolve a way around the mechanisms that keep them from growing too much. Understanding the many levels of evolution that interact here may one day help to fight cancer better.
  • Cloning. It sounds like the latest bio-tech advance, but from an evolutionary point of view it can be quite dangerous in many respects if it is not applied with the necessary care.
  • Agricultural techniques. Some techniques that are used to grow the crops the world relies on for food have problematic evolutionary side-effects.
  • Mutagenic substances. There are many substances in our industrialized world that change a fundamental evolutionary parameter, the mutation rate. This can have grave consequences on the long term. We need to understand these issues better to fully grasp what our mutagenic life-styles really do to the world that our children will live in. 
  • ....

Fascinating questions

  • How did humans evolve in the past?
  • How did life evolve on earth?
  • Why did the dinosaurs go extinct?
  • Can we predict the future of evolution?
  • ....

 

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