Examples of Evolution: Medical Applications

Medical applications of evolution are possibly the most exciting aspect of modern evolutionary research. From determining the molecular basis of disease through developing treatments and cures, researchers rely on the basic principles of evolutionary theory. Meanwhile, the research itself provides new insight into evolutionary processes.


  • Taxol: Taxol, an extract from the back of the Pacific Yew tree, was discovered to have chemotherapeutic qualities and became a hot commodity.  Unfortunately, there wasn't much of it available as the trees are rare and grow slowly.  Cancer patients, researchers, and conservationists were about to duke it out over the Pacific Yew when evolutionary research came to the rescue.  Using systematics to search for closely related plants, researchers found a common, fast growing relative of the Pacific Yew which yielded a similar product.  Problem solved.


  • Cone Snail Venom: Cone snails produce a venom which has been found to be a useful drug in humans for pain relief as well as other diseases.  There are 500 species of cone snail, each producing a different type of venom.  Evolutionary relationships between species can guide scientists in selecting likely candidates for drug research.

Back to Examples of Evolution »