Darwin's Reach : 21st Century Applications of Evolutionary Biology book cover
1st Edition

Darwin's Reach
21st Century Applications of Evolutionary Biology

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ISBN 9781138587397
January 25, 2022 Forthcoming by CRC Press
456 Pages 21 Color & 10 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

The application of evolutionary biology addresses a wide range of practical problems in medicine, agriculture, the environment, and society. Such cutting-edge applications are emerging due to recent advances in DNA sequencing, new gene editing tools, and computational methods. This book is about applied evolution – the application of the principles of and information about evolutionary biology to diverse practical matters. Although applied evolution has existed, unrecognized, for a very long time, today’s version has a much wider scope. Evolutionary medicine has formed into its own discipline. Evolutionary approaches have long been employed in agriculture and in conservation biology. But Darwin’s reach now extends beyond just these three fields. It now also includes forensic biology and the law. Ideas from evolutionary biology can be used to inform policy regarding foreign affairs and national security. Applied evolution is not only interdisciplinary, but also multidisciplinary. Consequently, this book is for experts in one field who are interested in expanding their evolutionary horizons. It is also for students, at the undergraduate and graduate levels. One of the public relations challenges faced by evolutionary biology is that most people do not see it being all that relevant to their daily lives. Even many who accept evolution do not grasp how far Darwin’s reach extends. This book will change that perception.

Key Features:

  • Emphasizes the expanding role evolutionary biology has in today’s world.
  • Includes examples from medicine, law, agriculture, conservation, and even national security
  • Summarizes new technologies and computational methods that originated as innovations based in part or whole on evolutionary theory.
  • Current. Has extensive coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic and other recent topics.
  • Documents the important role evolution plays in everyday life.
  • Illustrates the broadly interdisciplinary nature of evolutionary theory.

Related Titles

Rogers, S. O. Integrating Molecular Evolution (ISBN 9780367869526)

DeSalle, R. et al. Phylogenomics: A Primer (ISBN 9780367028497)

Bard, J. Evolution: The Origins and Mechanisms of Diversity (ISBN 9780367357016)





Table of Contents




Figure I-1

Figure I-2


Chapter 1: Paging Dr. Darwin

Fighting resistance is not futile

Figure 1-1 A and B

Why we get sick


Chapter 2: Going Viral

A tale of two pandemics
A closer look at SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses

Figure 2-1

Evolution and coronavirus spillover

Using evolution to track viruses

Evolving viruses

What genetic variants affect COVID susceptibility, and why?


HIV/AIDS: the other pandemic



Chapter 3: Vectors of Disease

The lethal mosquito

Malaria’s genetic legacy

Figure 3-1

Why are some mosquitoes vectors?

Antimalarials and evolution of resistance

Mosquito control

Gene drives

Figure 3-2


Chapter 4: Mismatch: Are We Trapped by Our Past

The consequences of missing old friends



Climb every mountain

Blessed are the cheesemakers

Evolutionary mutant models

How are we evolving?


Chapter 5: From Genetic Mapping to Personalized Medicine

The potential of personalized medicine

Cystic fibrosis: a success story

Association mapping, linkage disequilibrium, and haplotype blocks

Figure 5-1

Figure 5-2

Figure 5-3

Figure 5-4

GWAS success stories in autoimmune diseases

Getting the dose right

Watson’s ApoE status: A tale of genetic privacy

Limitations of GWAS



Chapter 6: Cancer: Darwin meets the Emperor of All Maladies

We have met the emperor…

Hallmarks and snowflakes

Cancer’s long history

Peto’s paradox and the elephant genes in the room

Comparative oncology: Beyond Peto’s paradox

Figure 6-1

Drivers and passengers

Genotype by environment interactions and cancer

Cancer and tradeoffs

Resistance cancer drug resistance



Chapter 7: Human Life History

Prader-Willi and the pregnancy tug of war

Progesterone and its receptor

Why are human babies born so helpless?

Figure 7-1

Why do human females have such a long post-reproductive life?

Fathers provide most mutations


Chapter 8: Darwin at the Farm

Lessons from potatoes

Making a better tomato

Figure 8-1

Figure 8-2

Figure 8-3

Mornings are for coffee and contemplation

Unintended consequences of improving crop yield

Vavilov’s Legacy


Chapter 9: Managing Agriculture

Benjamin Walsh, Darwinism, and pest control

Herbicide resistance

Insecticide resistance

Biological control

Figure 9-1

Gene drives to thwart agricultural pests


Chapter 10: Buccaneers of Buzz: Bees and Pollination

Emily Dickinson and bees

The benefits of bees

A closer look at bee diversity

Figure 10-1

Genetic oddities of bees

Figure 10-2

A closer look at honey bees

Threats to bees


Pathogens and parasites

Darwinian beekeeping and the wisdom of the hive



Chapter 11: The Biodiversity Crisis

The biodiversity crisis

Barcoding to catalogue biodiversity

Genetic rescue

Minimal viable size

Figure 11-1

The new threat: Climate change

Genetic rescue revisited

Conservation and the microbiota


Chapter 12: Challenges in the Ocean

The Threats to Life in the Oceans

The Deepwater Horizon Disaster

Chronic exposure to toxins

Warming in the oceans

Ocean acidification

Figure 12-1


The Big Picture


Chapter 13: Challenges in the City

Cities are full of life

The peppered moth

Figure 13-1

Urbanization and the great sort

Urban foxes evolve short snouts and urban plants evolve to stop dispersing

Figure 13-2

Hot time – summer in the city!

Big brains in the big city?

Roads and evolution

Speciation in the city

Urbanization and the microbiota



Chapter 14: Challenges from Invasive Species

The cane toad invasion

Figure 14-1

Gough Island and its rodents of unusual size

The threat from invasive species

Herbert Baker and the ideal weed

Becoming invasive

Native species responses to invasive species

Invasive pathogens: the case of the amphibian-killing fungus



Chapter 15: The sequence on the Stand

The search for the Golden State Killer

Figure 15-1

Figure 15-2

DNA fingerprinting

The sequence on the stand

The microbes of death


Chapter 16: Darwinian Security

Rafe Sagarin’s quest

Games animals, people, and nations play

Arms races and extreme weapons

Living with threats

Direct application to asymmetric warfare


Chapter 17: Human Genetic Diversity and the Non-existence of Biological Races

Cheddar Man

Race in America

No Races, Only Clines

Ancient DNA and Neanderthals

Ancient DNA: Denisovans and Ghosts

Only Skin Deep

Troublesome Science

Figure 17-1

Figure 17-2



Epilogue: Lessons Learned and Lamentable Lacunae


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Norman Johnson is an evolutionary geneticist, who received his B. S. from William and Mary (1987) and a Ph.D. from the University of Rochester (1992). His doctoral thesis was on the genetics of hybrid sterility between different species of Drosophila. He was a postdoctoral fellow with Michael Wade on quantitative genetics of hybrid traits between species of Tribolium flour beetles at the University of Chicago. Johnson teaches classes in genetics and/or evolution. Most of his research has been on the genetics and evolution of why hybrids between species are often sterile or inviable. Other research interests include the evolution of sex chromosomes, the evolution of extremely large dietary niches in insects, and the interplay between the relaxation of selection and the loss of traits. He wrote Darwinian Detectives: Revealing the Natural History of Genes and Genomes, published in 2007. Johnson was the lead organizer for a working group at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (in Durham, NC) on Communicating the Relevance of Human Evolution. One of the outcomes was a paper for American Biology Teacher that addresses the question, “if humans evolved from chimps, why are there still chimps?” Johnson was the section editor for the Applied Evolution section of the Encyclopedia of Evolution . He wrote three of the entries (overview of evolutionary medicine and cancer, pest management, and evolution and breeding) and commissioned a dozen other entries in subjects ranging from evolution and climate change response to evolutionary computation to evolution and national security.