“Evolution in a Toxic World” is, in some ways, a story of the evolution of one toxicologist’s personal and professional evolution in a field that is, by her account, at last merging with the insights available from the field of evolutionary studies. For it turns out that toxicology has much more to concern itself with than the occasional dramatic case of humans being poisoned by their own chemical creations. The emerging reality about the interactions of thousands upon thousands of “new” chemical compounds with the evolved biology of every living thing is an area that requires careful study and new ways of defining just what dangers might lurk in our present and future environments (as altered by human activity).
The reality is this: we industrious humans have liberated tons of heavy metals and naturally-occuring materials from the earth through our mining and burning and manufacturing. Along the way we have invented chemical compounds that have never existed in nature. It stands to reason that such an environment — changed as it is from the one we evolved in — might produce some surprises in our biology, and this is proving to be the case.
But this case is sometimes subtle and nuanced — not always a tale of deathly poisons, but often of chemicals whose molecular shapes resemble hormones, say, and that fool living cells into taking them up in ways that alters reproductive cycles or DNA.
This book is not alarmist, even if there are alarming revelations as the author takes us along on her own journey into our evolutionary past in order to better understand the task that is before scientists such as her (and humankind). it is a well-written, cogent and enjoyable book to read, well worth your time if for no other reason than the fact that you have to live your life in this new chemical world we have created.
I highly recommend this book.