Earth is a hostile place — and that’s even before one starts attending school. Even when life first sparked into being, it had to evolve defenses to deal with a number of toxins, such as damaging ultraviolet light, then there were toxic elements ranging from iron to oxygen to overcome, later, there was DDT and other toxic chemicals and of course, there are all those dreaded cancers.
In Evolution In A Toxic World: How Life Responds To Chemical Threats [Island Press; 2012: Guardian Bookshop; Amazon UK;Amazon US], environmental toxicologist Emily Monosson outlines three billion years of evolution designed to withstand the hardships of living on this deadly planet, giving rise to processes ranging from excretion, transformation or stowing harmful substances. The subtitle erroneously suggests these toxins are only chemical in nature, but the author actually discusses more than this one subclass of toxins.
The method that arose to deal with these toxins is a plethora of specialised, targeted proteins — enzymes that capture toxins and repair their damages. By following the origin and progression of these shared enzymes that evolved to deal with specific toxins, the author traces their history from the first bacteria-like organisms to modern humans. Comparing the new field evolutionary toxicology to biomedical research, Dr Monosson notes: “In light of evolution, biomedical researchers are now asking questions that might seem antithetical to medicine”.