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Centre for Human Evolution, Adaptation and Disease

The Centre for Human Evolution, Adaptation and Disease is located in the Liggins Institute, The University of Auckland.

We investigate how present (ecological) and past (evolutionary and developmental) interactions with the environment influence human health and disease. Our focus is on developing a theoretical framework for understanding the role played by developmental plasticity in shaping adult health.

Developmental plasticity refers to a range of processes occurring in prenatal and early postnatal life when an organism is able to take and interpret signals from its environment to make predictions about the world it will grow up in and adapt its development to suit. In particular, we are interested in the evolutionary basis of the mechanisms underlying developmental plasticity.

Working closely with experimental scientists, nutritional ecologists, evolutionary biologists and clinicians, we focus especially on the ways in which the organism responds to its nutritional developmental environment and problems that may arise when the organism predicts a nutritionally scarce future yet later finds itself in a world of abundant and energy-rich foods. This phenomenon is thought to be a major cause of the current obesity epidemic and the resulting high prevalence of diabetes mellitus type 2 and heart disease.

Our research is funded by Gravida, the RSNZ Marsden Fund Grant and the Health Research Council of New Zealand International Investment Opportunities Fund.