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Department of Anthropology

Academic Staff

Publication details for Dr Ian Rickard

Rickard, I.J. (2016). The Developmental Origins of Health and Disease: Adaptation Reconsidered. In Evolutionary Thinking in Medicine: From Research to Policy and Practice. Alvergne, A., Jenkinson, C. & Faurie, C. Cham: Springer. 75-88.

Author(s) from Durham


It is now well established that an individual’s experience in the womb can have long-term consequences for their health and well-being. From an evolutionary perspective, it can be predicted that organisms will respond to their early conditions adaptively, maximising their prospects for survival and reproductive prospects under the circumstances. However, relatively little attention is given to the fact that there are multiple ways by which such ‘developmental plasticity’ may evolve. It is necessary to consider kinds of plasticity that can involve something other than an individual organism adapting to an external physical environment. Notably, adaptive developmental plasticity occurs between traits within an individual’s body, as well as between individuals (e.g. between mother and foetus). Taking such an inclusive perspective on the nature of developmental plasticity suggests alternative conclusions to the interpretation of patterns of health and disease, and to which kinds of intervention might be expected to be effective.