Comparative endocrinology in the 21st century

Integrative and Comparative Biology

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DOI: 10.1093/icb/icp082



Hormones coordinate developmental, physiological, and behavioral processes within and between all living organisms. They orchestrate and shape organogenesis from early in development, regulate the acquisition, assimilation, and utilization of nutrients to support growth and metabolism, control gamete production and sexual behavior, mediate organismal responses to environmental change, and allow for communication of information between organisms. Genes that code for hormones; the enzymes that synthesize, metabolize, and transport hormones; and hormone receptors are important targets for natural selection, and variation in their expression and function is a major driving force for the evolution of morphology and life history. Hormones coordinate physiology and behavior of populations of organisms, and thus play key roles in determining the structure of populations, communities, and ecosystems. The field of endocrinology is concerned with the study of hormones and their actions. This field is rooted in the comparative study of hormones in diverse species, which has provided the foundation for the modern fields of evolutionary, environmental, and biomedical endocrinology. Comparative endocrinologists work at the cutting edge of the life sciences. They identify new hormones, hormone receptors and mechanisms of hormone action applicable to diverse species, including humans; study the impact of habitat destruction, pollution, and climatic change on populations of organisms; establish novel model systems for studying hormones and their functions; and develop new genetic strains and husbandry practices for efficient production of animal protein. While the model system approach has dominated biomedical research in recent years, and has provided extraordinary insight into many basic cellular and molecular processes, this approach is limited to investigating a small minority of organisms. Animals exhibit tremendous diversity in form and function, life-history strategies, and responses to the environment. A major challenge for life scientists in the 21st century is to understand how a changing environment impacts all life on earth. A full understanding of the capabilities of organisms to respond to environmental variation, and the resilience of organisms challenged by environmental changes and extremes, is necessary for understanding the impact of pollution and climatic change on the viability of populations. Comparative endocrinologists have a key role to play in these efforts.

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Comparative endocrinology in the 21st century
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Integrative and Comparative Biology
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