Developmental adaptation: Where we go from here


  • A. Roberto Frisancho

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Anthropology and Center for Human Growth and Development, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-1092
    • Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1092, USA
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  • This article was presented at the 2008 AAPA meeting in a symposium in honor of A. Roberto Frisancho, on the occasion of his retirement from the Department of Anthropology of the University of Michigan.


The concept of developmental adaptation is a powerful framework that can be used for understanding the origin of population differences in phenotypic and genotypic biological traits. There is great deal of information describing how developmental responses can shape adult biological outcomes. Specifically, current research suggest that individuals developing in stressful environments such as high altitude will attain an adult enlarged residual lung volume that contribute to the successful cardiovascular adaptation of the high-altitude Andean native. Likewise, studies on the etiology of the metabolic syndrome indicate that development under poor nutritional environments elicit efficient physiological and metabolic responses for the utilization of nutrients and energy, which become disadvantageous when the adult environmental conditions provide abundant access to food and low energy expenditure. Epigenetic research in experimental animals and retrospective research in humans confirm that environmental influences during developmental period have profound consequences on the phenotypic expression of biological and behavioral traits during adulthood. Research on epigenetics is a productive direction for human biologists concerned with understanding the origins of human biological variability. Am. J. Hum. Biol., 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.