Jaundice in newborns could be an evolutionary safeguard against death from sepsis

Elaina Collie-Duguid, Georgina Hold, Richard Hansen

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationArticle


In newborn babies, jaundice is so common as to be termed physiological. It affects around 60% of term babies and around 80% of preterm babies in the first week of their lives. Clinicians need to monitor it carefully and sometimes treat it, since it can lead to conditions like acute bilirubin encephalopathy and kernicterus that can damage the infant’s brain and cause developmental problems.

But it now looks as though this jaundice is not merely one of the pitfalls of entering the world. New research just published in Scientific Reports, in which we have been involved, suggests that it is one of the gifts of evolution. Humans may develop jaundice as newborns to protect from something even more serious: sepsis.
Original languageEnglish
Specialist publicationThe Conversation
PublisherThe Conversation UK
Publication statusPublished - 23 May 2018

Bibliographical note

Richard Hansen receives funding from the Chief Scientist Office, Scotland; NHS Research Scotland; National Institute for Health Research; Glasgow Children's Hospital Charity; Crohn's in Childhood Research Association; Crohn's and Colitis UK; CORE; British Society of Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition; and the Catherine McEwan Foundation.

Elaina Collie-Duguid received funding from BBSRC for capital equipment used in this study.

Georgina Hold received Medical Research Council Funding including the funding for a PhD studentship to Sophie Gibson, who was the first author on this study.


  • Evolution
  • Bacteria
  • Birth
  • Babies
  • Liver
  • Scotland
  • Sepsis
  • Aberdeen
  • Neonatal
  • Hepatitis
  • newborn babies


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