In our rapidly changing chemical world, where a steady stream of new chemicals enter into the environment each year, there is no better way to understand our current chemical predicament than to explore the evolutionary history of life’s response to toxic chemicals.
As a toxicologist I’ve wondered how our bodies react to chemicals, whether they are naturally occurring, like lead, mercury, and oxygen or synthetic like many organochlorines. How is it that oxygen is highly toxic yet essential, and why do so many chemicals seem to interact with estrogen receptors – receptors once thought to be highly specific? And then there are the aryl hydrocarbon receptors, first identified through their affinity for chemicals like polyaromatic hydrocarbons, dioxins and pcbs. Receptors that are ubiquitous throughout the body, yet their role in life and their origin remains unknown.
Evolution. Adaptation. A need for chemical defense. Could an exploration of evolutionary processes shed some light on these mysteries? The book Evolution in a Toxic World, explores the evolutionary history of life’s varied responses to toxic chemicals through select examples. But that was intended only as a beginning.
The primary goal of this blog is to continue the exploration, whether the focus is the evolutionary history of a highly conserved system, or contemporary evolution in response to contaminants of human origin. There is an abundance of scientific literature on toxicology, mechanisms of chemical defense, evolutionary history, and genetics which provide a rich background for this topic. We just need to weave them together.