Applying evolutionary genetics to developmental toxicology and risk assessment

Maxwell C.K. Leung, Andrew C. Procter, Jared V. Goldstone, Jonathan Foox, Robert DeSalle, Carolyn J. Mattingly, Mark E. Siddall, Alicia R. Timme-Laragy

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Evolutionary thinking continues to challenge our views on health and disease. Yet, there is a communication gap between evolutionary biologists and toxicologists in recognizing the connections among developmental pathways, high-throughput screening, and birth defects in humans. To increase our capability in identifying potential developmental toxicants in humans, we propose to apply evolutionary genetics to improve the experimental design and data interpretation with various in vitro and whole-organism models. We review five molecular systems of stress response and update 18 consensual cell–cell signaling pathways that are the hallmark for early development, organogenesis, and differentiation; and revisit the principles of teratology in light of recent advances in high-throughput screening, big data techniques, and systems toxicology. Multiscale systems modeling plays an integral role in the evolutionary approach to cross-species extrapolation. Phylogenetic analysis and comparative bioinformatics are both valuable tools in identifying and validating the molecular initiating events that account for adverse developmental outcomes in humans. The discordance of susceptibility between test species and humans (ontogeny) reflects their differences in evolutionary history (phylogeny). This synthesis not only can lead to novel applications in developmental toxicity and risk assessment, but also can pave the way for applying an evo-devo perspective to the study of developmental origins of health and disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)174-186
Number of pages13
JournalReproductive Toxicology
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Birth defects
  • Developmental toxicology
  • Evo-Devo
  • Evolutionary genetics
  • High-throughput screening
  • Signaling pathways
  • Systems toxicology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology


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