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This past December, science writer David Dobbs published an essay (2013) in the online magazine Aeon (aeon.co/magazine/) that purports to explain why the ‘selfish gene’ concept is outmoded and should be retired.  It elicited a good deal of commentary, and in early March, Aeon published responses (Sapolsky et al., 2014) to the original article from four individuals (two scientists, a genetic counselor, and a philosopher) as well as additional comments by Dobbs.  For those who are interested in this controversy, responses to the original Dobbs article were also posted elsewhere by Richard Dawkins (2013) and Jerry Coyne (2013a, b).  Below, I provide a sense of the arguments of Dobbs, the tenor of the criticisms of Dobbs’s piece, and selected other critiques of the gene-centric approach to evolution. Continue Reading »

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Crespi, B., Foster, K., & Úbeda, F. (2014). First principles of Hamiltonian medicine.
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 369(1642). doi: 10.1098/rstb.2013.0366

We introduce the field of Hamiltonian medicine, which centres on the roles of genetic relatedness in human health and disease. Hamiltonian medicine represents the application of basic social-evolution theory, for interactions involving kinship, to core issues in medicine such as pathogens, cancer, optimal growth and mental illness. It encompasses three domains, which involve conflict and cooperation between: (i) microbes or cancer cells, within humans, (ii) genes expressed in humans, (iii) human individuals. A set of six core principles, based on these domains and their interfaces, serves to conceptually organize the field, and contextualize illustrative examples. The primary usefulness of Hamiltonian medicine is that, like Darwinian medicine more generally, it provides novel insights into what data will be productive to collect, to address important clinical and public health problems. Our synthesis of this nascent field is intended predominantly for evolutionary and behavioural biologists who aspire to address questions directly relevant to human health and disease.  More at PTRSB website 

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History invites applications for a postdoctoral fellow in Human Health and Evolutionary Medicine within the Division of Collections and Research.

The Museum is embarking on its Centennial Transformation Project, which will result in new exhibit galleries and research space.  As part of this project, a new gallery on human health is being created.  The museum seeks a postdoctoral fellow to help develop content and programs in the new human health gallery. Other duties will include managing content and coordinating with the exhibit design firm and a team of scientific advisors. The successful candidate will have a strong interest in public outreach and education and research experience in one of the following areas: 1) evolutionary medicine, 2) environmental health, 3) human biology, 4) human genetics.  The principal responsibility of the postdoctoral fellow will be exhibit-related activities, but research time can be negotiated depending on the fellow’s research program.  The position is for one year, starting July 1, 2014, but may be renewable for a second year.Applicants for this position should hold a M.D. or Ph.D. in a field related to human health (such as biochemistry, biological anthropology, cellular biology, genetics, immunology or physiology). The applicant should have a broad base of knowledge of human health, and demonstrated success in communicating science to the public is preferred.

The Cleveland region offers many opportunities for collaboration with other leading research programs at nearby institutions including Case Western Reserve University, University Hospitals, the Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland State University, and MetroHealth Hospitals, as well as a vibrant biotech community.   The museum itself also offers unique resources such as the Hamann-Todd Osteological Collection, a DNA laboratory, and the GreenCityBlueLake Institute.


Please send a cover letter, curriculum vitae, the names and contact information for three professional references in single PDF file to:
Human Resources
Cleveland Museum of Natural History
1 Wade Oval Drive, University Circle
Cleveland, Ohio 44106

 The list of people with an interest in evolution and medicine has been updated by Deryc Painter,  a graduate student in the Center for Biology and Society at ASU.  There are now 446 people on the list.

He began with the list from this site of self-identified medical professionals and research academics taking an evolutionary perspective to human health.  He added contributing authors and those cited in references from three recent textbooks of evolutionary medicine.  (Trevathan 1999, Stearns 1999, Perlman 2013)  He also added authors of articles in the 2010 special issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on evolutionary medicine, and authors cited in Steve Stearns’ paper “Evolutionary Medicine: its scope, interest, and potential.  The resulting list provides a resource that should be very useful for connecting people in the field.  Please add your own information if it is not there already, and encourage other interested researchers, clinicians, and teachers to do the same.

  • Trevathan, W. R., Smith, E. O. & McKenna, J. J. 1999 Evolutionary medicine and health. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Stearns, S. C. 1999 Evolution in Health and Disease. New York, NY: Oxford University Press
  • Perlman, R. L. 2013 Evolution and Medicine. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Stearns, S. C. 2013.  Evolutionary Medicine: its scope, interest, and potential.  Proceedings of the Royal Society B. online  doi:10.1098/rspb.2012.1326

The 46 articles that were nominated  for the 2013 Omenn Prize are listed below.  The $5000 prize, sponsored by The Foundation for Evolution, Medicine, & Public Health, is made possible by a donation from Gilbert Omenn. Nominations closed on February 28, but the prize may be offered again next year.  The winner will be announced in April on the Foundation’s webpage and here at The Evolution, and Medicine Review.

To download the whole list click here     Omenn Prize articles EMR

To view the list, see below.

Continue Reading »

Geneticists have recognized for some time that many genes exhibit pleiotropy, meaning that one mutation can manifest in two or more distinguishable phenotypic effects. In a fascinating study recently published in Science [2014 Jan 10;343(6167):152-7. doi:10.1126/science.1246886], Joseph et al. offer evidence for an example of pleiotropy in which the distinct phenotypic effects associated with mutation of the POLR3A gene, which encodes a subunit (RPC1) of RNA polymerase III, are associated with two different diseases: one or another form of cancer and an autoimmune disease (scleroderma). Continue Reading »

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The prize is for the best 2013 paper in evolution, medicine, and public health. Deadline, Feb 28.  Details here. 

Greaves, Mel. (2014).Was skin cancer a selective force for black pigmentation in early hominin evolution?
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 281(1781). doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.2955  (open access)

Melanin provides a crucial filter for solar UV radiation and its genetically determined variation influences both skin pigmentation and risk of cancer. Genetic evidence suggests that the acquisition of a highly stable melanocortin 1 receptor allele promoting black pigmentation arose around the time of savannah colonization by hominins at some 1–2 Ma. The adaptive significance of dark skin is generally believed to be protection from UV damage but the pathologies that might have had a deleterious impact on survival and/or reproductive fitness, though much debated, are uncertain. Here, I suggest that data on age-associated cancer incidence and lethality in albinos living at low latitudes in both Africa and Central America support the contention that skin cancer could have provided a potent selective force for the emergence of black skin in early hominins.


          Open Rank (Job# 10655) Arizona State University School of Life Sciences

          Center for Evolution, Medicine & Public Health

Arizona State University is making a major commitment to developing the field of Evolutionary Medicine. There are plans to recruit up to eight faculty members for a new Center for Evolution, Medicine & Public Health headed by Dr. Randolph Nesse.

The Center and the School of Life Sciences invite applications for two open rank faculty positions for Cancer researchers with a preference for one associate/full and one assistant professor. Continue Reading »

Gallium-mediated siderophore quenching as an evolutionarily robust antibacterial treatment Adin Ross-Gillespie, Michael Weigert, Sam P. Brown, and Rolf Kümmerli EMPH
Published 30 January 2014, 10.1093/emph/eou003 

Background and objectives: Conventional antibiotics select strongly for resistance and are consequently losing efficacy worldwide. Extracellular quenching of shared virulence factors could represent a more promising strategy because (a) it reduces the available routes to resistance (since extracellular action precludes any mutations blocking a drug’s entry into cells or hastening its exit) and (b) it weakens selection for resistance, since fitness benefits to emergent mutants are diluted across all cells in a cooperative collective. Here, we tested this hypothesis empirically.

Methodology: We used gallium to quench the iron-scavenging siderophores secreted and shared among pathogenic Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria, and quantitatively monitored its effects on growth in vitro. We assayed virulence in acute infections of caterpillar hosts (Galleria mellonella), and tracked resistance emergence over time using experimental evolution.

Results: Gallium strongly inhibited bacterial growth in vitro, primarily via its siderophore quenching activity. Moreover, bacterial siderophore production peaked at intermediate gallium concentrations, indicating additional metabolic costs in this range. In vivo, gallium attenuated virulence and growth – even more so than in infections with siderophore-deficient strains. Crucially, while resistance soon evolved against conventional antibiotic treatments, gallium treatments retained their efficacy over time.

Conclusions: Extracellular quenching of bacterial public goods could offer an effective and evolutionarily robust control strategy.

A careful reading of the review of fever in “Fever: Friend or Foe?”, reveals the embarrassing deficiency in medical science’s understanding of how fever, much less anorexia, functions in infection. Since fever (as well as anorexia and other components of the acute-phase response) is induced by our own cytokines, it is virtually axiomatic that fever has been more beneficial than harmful on an evolutionary scale (since otherwise the response would have been deleted). As a “fan” of fever, I’ve compiled a list of six potential benefits of fever, each of which is found in the literature and has a reasonable experimental or theoretical basis (and each likely has some degree of correctness). Note that the first four are based on fever being a heat stressor. Have a look and then see my take on it.

Fever may work by:
1) directly harming pathogens,*
2) inducing apoptosis of infected cells (and neoplastic cells),
3) inducing host’s heat shock proteins to protect host cells during infection,
4) inducing heat shock proteins in pathogens—extracellular heat shock proteins activate immune responses as “danger signals”,
5) increasing efficacy of immune responses since they work better at slightly elevated temperatures,*
6) turning down the immune response by causing apoptosis of neutrophils and lymphocytes. Continue Reading »

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Last month, I completed teaching a graduate course for the tenth time.  After several years (in the early 1990’s) of thinking about launching a new alternate-year seminar course and then planning it, I began teaching PATH 480 in the fall of 1994.  The original name of the course, maintained through the first seven times I taught it, was: “Immunology, Evolution and Logic.”  Beginning in 2009, another faculty member, Derek Abbott, joined me in teaching the course, and the title was revised to: “Logical Dissection of Biomedical Investigations.”  In my portion of the course, I retained an emphasis on the relevance of logic and evolutionary principles to thinking about immune recognition and immune functioning more generally.  I focused class sessions on concepts and underlying assumptions critical to experimental investigations as well as on experimental design and data interpretation in articles reporting studies pertaining to immune recognition. Dr. Abbott has focused his portion of the course on the practical cognitive skills involved in reviewing papers and grant proposals pertaining primarily to innate immune signaling. Continue Reading »

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The Evolution, Medicine, & Public Health Foundation invites nominations for the Omenn Prize of $5000 to be awarded in April 2014 for the best  article published in 2013 in any scientific journal on a topic related to evolution in the context of medicine and public health.

The prize, provided by the generosity of Gilbert S Omenn, will be awarded to the first author of the winning article.  Nominations, including a brief statement in the body of the email (max. 250 words), a copy of the article (if distribution is permitted) or abstract and article link, must be submitted by 5pm, 28 February, 2014 US Eastern Standard Time to  OmennPrize@evolutionarymedicine.org . Authors are encouraged to nominate their own articles, but nominations of articles by others are also welcome.

Any relevant peer-reviewed article is eligible, but the prize is intended for work that uses evolutionary principles to advance understanding of a disease or disease process.  The prize committee will give priority to articles with implications for human health, but many basic science or theoretical articles have such implications.

The Prize Committee is chaired by Allen Rodrigo, and its members are Carl Bergstrom and Sarah Tishkoff.  Papers by committee members, their students and lab group members are not eligible, and articles by their co-authors or close associates are subject to special conditions.

Haig, David. (2014). Interbirth intervals: intrafamilial, intragenomic, and intrasomatic conflict. Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health. doi: 10.1093/emph/eou002  

Background and objectives: Interbirth intervals (IBIs) mediate a trade-off between child number and child survival. Life history theory predicts that the evolutionarily optimal IBI differs for different individuals whose fitness is affected by how closely a mother spaces her children. The objective of the paper is to clarify these conflicts and explore their implications for public health.

Methodology: Simple models of inclusive fitness and kin conflict address the evolution of human birth-spacing.

Results: Genes of infants generally favor longer intervals than genes of mothers, and infant genes of paternal origin generally favor longer IBIs than genes of maternal origin.

Conclusions and implications: The colonization of maternal bodies by offspring cells (fetal microchimerism) raises the possibility that cells of older offspring could extend IBIs by interfering with the implantation of subsequent embryos.

Inaugural Lectures and Symposium

The ASU Center for Evolution, Medicine & Public Health

Streamed live at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/asu-live
All times are Mountain time (GMT-7)

January 17 – 22

The ASU Center for Evolution, Medicine & Public Health (CEMPH) will host several events to celebrate the center’s launch. Directed by Randolph Nesse, a founder of the field of evolutionary medicine, the center’s mission is to establish evolutionary biology as a basic science for medicine and public health worldwide. Research is at its core, but the center will also have major commitments to education, outreach and developing similar programs elsewhere. The new center synergizes with the ASU Center for Evolutionary Medicine and Bioinformatics, directed by Sudhir Kumar, by augmenting existing strengths in phylogenetics, with new faculty whose research uses basic evolutionary principles to understand problems such as antibiotic resistance, cancer, autoimmune disease, aging and behavioral disorders.

SCHEDULE OF EVENTS – open to the public

Fri., January 17, 2-3:15 p.m. in LSE 104 (refreshments served beforehand)

William Aird, Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Director, Center for Vascular Biology Research Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Galen, hagfish and the bench-to-bedside gap in endothelial biomedicine: a noisy affair

Tues., January 21, 1-6:30 p.m. in Memorial Union 241

Symposium on Evolution, Medicine & Public Health: The Great Opportunity

1 p.m. Mark Flinn, Professor & Chair of Anthropology, University of Missouri
Hormones in the wild: Physiological adaptations for human social relationships

2:30 p.m. Andrew Read, Alumni Professor in the Biological Sciences, Professor of Entomology, and Director, Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics
The evolution of drug resistance and the curious orthodoxy of aggressive chemotherapy

4 p.m. Panel discussion with the four visitors and ASU faculty, led by Randolph Nesse
Making evolutionary biology a basic science for medicine worldwide: What can ASU do?
5:30 p.m. Open reception for all who share an interest in evolution and medicine

Weds., January 22, noon-1 p.m. ISTB-1 401

Bernard Crespi, Professor of Biology, Simon Fraser University
Where Darwin meets Freud: Evolutionary biology and the genetics of autism, psychosis, and the social brain

To join the listserv for CEMPH events send a note to CEMPH@asu.edu

For a printable color poster for the events, click here.

For a folder with the speaker’s CV’s and papers, click here.

Abstracts below Continue Reading »

Book Review by Daniel Promislow of   Evolution & Medicine by Robert L. Perlman
Frequency-dependent selection drives HBeAg seroconversion in chronic hepatitis B virus infection By Warner, Abbott and Rodrigo 

Biomedical scientists and biologists routinely consider how selection shapes the structure and function of proteins of interest.  Less commonly, I suspect, do we consider how selection for attributes other than protein structure and function can favor or disfavor nucleotide sequences that encode particular amino acid sequences.   A new study (Stergachis et al., 2013) published in the December 13 issue of Science presents strong evidence for one particular source of selection (unrelated to protein function) influencing coding regions, known as exons, of genes.  This form of selection arises from the  fact, as revealed by the authors, that many transcription factors (TF), proteins that bind to specific nucleotide  sequences and regulate the frequency and pace of gene transcription (i.e., gene expression), bind in exonic regions of genes. Continue Reading »

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Book Review
The story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health & Disease By Daniel Lieberman
Publishers: Pantheon Books, Random House, USA  (2013) and Allen Lane (UK) 2013 ISBN: 978-1-846-14393-9  (Amazon link here)

 Review by Sir Peter Gluckman, Centre for Human Evolution, Adaptation and Disease, Liggins Institute University of Auckland

In recent years there have been a growing number of popular books that try and put an evolutionary perspective on the human condition. In general they have suffered from either over-claiming the relevance of the particular perspective they have taken, or from over simplifying complex contexts in which their particular disease focus is set.  I must admit to having co-authored a couple that suffer from these criticisms[1]. The challenge with such books is always for whom is the author writing. Is it to educate and inform the general public, to educate health care professionals, (too many of whom are sadly lacking in knowledge in evolutionary medicine) or is it to incite some particular actions in society, medicine or public health.  In a sense all three tend to be part of an author’s agenda and this tends to put both a challenge on both the author and the reader. Continue Reading »

By Monahan-Earley, R., Dvorak, A. M., & Aird, W. C. (2013).  In Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis, 11, 46-66. doi: 10.1111/jth.12253  (open access)

Summary: Every biological trait requires both a proximate and evolutionary explanation. The field of vascular biology is focused primarily on proximate mechanisms in health and disease. Comparatively little attention has been given to the evolutionary basis of the cardiovascular system. Here, we employ a comparative approach to review the phylogenetic history of the blood vascular system and endothelium. In addition to drawing on the published literature, we provide primary ultrastructural data related to the lobster, earthworm, amphioxus, and hagfish. Existing evidence suggests that the blood vascular system first appeared in an ancestor of the triploblasts over 600 million years ago, as a means to overcome the time-distance constraints of diffusion. The endothelium evolved in an ancestral vertebrate some 540–510 million years ago to optimize flow dynamics and barrier function, and/or to localize immune and coagulation functions. Finally, we emphasize that endothelial heterogeneity evolved as a core feature of the endothelium from the outset, reflecting its role in meeting the diverse needs of body tissues.

Three new papers (Kilpinen et al., 2013; McVickers et al., 2013; Kasowski et al., 2013) published earlier this month in Science all address the effects on human patterns of gene expression and other phenotypes of 1) genetic variation in non-protein coding regions of the genome and 2) covalent modifications of chromatin, the complex of DNA and proteins that facilitates the packaging and organization of DNA in the limited volume of the cell nucleus.  Regulation of gene expression is known to involve enzymes that covalently modify the chromatin proteins, known as histones, by attaching such moieties as methyl, acetyl, or phosphate groups to the so-called histone tails.  These post-translational modifications are commonly known as epigenetic marks and different marks, distinguished by both the chemical structure of the added substituent and the particular histone and precise amino acid modified, are associated with consistent and distinct effects on gene expression. Continue Reading »

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