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WHAT is the relationship between social status and health?
by Christopher von Rueden in the New York Times December 14, 2014
This is a tricky question. In modern industrialized societies, health certainly improves as you move up the socioeconomic ladder, but much of that trend is a result of health care and lifestyle factors (diet, physical activity) that are associated with income — not relative social position per se.
If you want to see how status affects health, you have to isolate status from material wealth. How to do that? The easiest way is to observe a society in which there is minimal material wealth to contest and where there are limited avenues for status competition.
So that is what my colleagues and I did. For several years, we studied the Tsimane forager-horticulturalists of Amazonian Bolivia, (read more)
An article published online at the Nature web site on November 24 (Chou et al., 2014) presents a fascinating study of examples in which bacterial genes have found their way to a number of distinct eukaryotic lineages including ticks and mites, gastropod (e.g., snails and slugs) and bivalve mollusks (e.g. clams and oysters), and choanoflagellates (a subset of ptotozoans). Type VI secretion amidase effector (Tae) molecules (encoded by tae genes) can kill rival bacteria by degrading their cells walls when delivered into those competing cells. The eukaryotes cited above all have “domesticated amidase effectors” (dae) genes, all of which are extremely similar to one of the four extant bacterial tae genes. Of the four tae genes found in bacterial species, three have been transferred to one or another eukaryotic genome. Continue Reading »
The International Society for Evolution, Medicine, & Public Health will hold its inaugural meeting March 19-21 in Tempe, Arizona. Early registration and abstract submissions until December 1st. Early registrants receive a substantial discount, and all fees are refundable until February 15th. Continue Reading »
Proposals for Catalysis Meetings in Evolutionary Medicine are now being accepted at The National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). We are looking to support innovative approaches to outstanding problems, specifically in areas realted to evolutionary medicine. Appropriate areas of inquiry include any field of evolutionary science that is relevant to medicine, or to human or animal health. Continue Reading »
Research Grants in the broader field of Evolutionary Medicine available at the Institute of Evolutionary Medicine IEM (Medical Faculty), University of Zurich (Switzerland). The IEM grant 2015 application submission is open until Dec 1, 2014. Find more information in the attached call for submissions or onhttp://www.iem.uzh.ch/research/iemgrant.html.
The ASU Center for Evolution and Medicine and the School of Human Evolution and Social Change invite applications for up to two tenure-eligible faculty positions in a transformative research and teaching initiative that will establish evolutionary biology as a crucial basic science for medicine and public health. Appointment may be at the assistant or associate level. Rank and tenure status will be commensurate with experience. Research areas may include topical focus on the implications for health of one or more of the following: diet/metabolism, the developmental origins of human disease, behavior, reproduction/development, environmental exposures, life history, and ecological conditions in small scale societies. These topics can be in reference to current and past epidemics and/or diseases of modern environments. https://academicjobsonline.org/ajo/jobs/4835
Open access publishing in Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health remains free through the end of 2014. Submit now to avoid substantial publication charges in 2015. The journal web site is at http://emph.oxfordjournals.org/ Click on Instruction to Authors for information on the types of articles published and how to submit them.
This Oxford University Press Journal, edited by Stephen Stearns, is particularly interested in original research articles.
The journal also welcomes proposals for review articles and Clinical Briefs (a new type of article pioneered at EMPH). If you have an idea for a review paper, or know of one that your colleagues are considering, please contact the Reviews Editor, Bernie Crespi (firstname.lastname@example.org).
If you know of a book relevant to evolutionary medicine that you would like to see reviewed, please contact Steve Austad (email@example.com). He can arrange to have it shipped directly to the chosen reviewer.
Recently, I heard the latter portions of the radio version of a play, “Lucy” by Damien Atkins, relating to autism and produced by L.A. Theatre Works. “Lucy” was originally performed and reviewed as long ago as November of 2007, but I was not aware of it until I encountered the production for radio about one week ago. The plot revolves around a couple (Vivian and Gavin) with a daughter (Lucy) who is 13 years old and has a severe form of autism. Of particular interest for the EMR readership is how Lucy’s mother, Vivian, views the relationship between the direction of human evolution and the prevalence of autism and the need for individuals with autism to receive therapy. Continue Reading »
After posting my last commentary on the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa, I listened to the netcast, This Week in Virology (www.twiv.tv), for September 14, 2014. TWiV sessions, hosted by Vincent Racaniello, a well-known virologist at Columbia University, are generally highly informative, typically offering thoughtful discussions about recently published studies pertaining to viruses or addressing broad areas of virus-related research. Continue Reading »
Evolutionary Medicine Catalysis Meetings at NESCent in Durham, NC
Proposals for Catalysis Meetings in Evolutionary Medicine are now being accepted at The National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). We are looking to support innovative approaches to outstanding problems, specifically in areas related to evolutionary medicine. Appropriate areas of inquiry include any field of evolutionary science that is relevant to medicine or to human or animal health. Examples include, but are not limited to, evolution of infectious or zoonotic disease, evolutionary issues in global health, evolution of aging, evolution of fertility, autoimmune disease and allergy, evolutionary perspectives on cancer, and evolution of disease-relevant micro-organisms. Proposals that have a clear interdisciplinary focus, and involve evolutionary concepts in any health- or disease-related area, are strongly encouraged, as are proposals that demonstrate international participation and a mix of senior and emerging researchers, including graduate students. Deadline for proposals is November 1, 2014. All meetings must be completed by September 30, 2015.
Indiana University has organized an extensive survey on the roles of evolutionary biology and theory in modern medical education. The survey targets students, alumni and faculty members of schools of medicine, nursing, veterinary medicine and public health. The aims are to assess 1) the level of education in evolutionary biology that current health practitioners have and students are receiving, 2) opinions about the utility of evolutionary biology in health practice and research, and 3) opinions as to when and where training in evolutionary biology might be most appropriate in medical education.There are four versions of the survey, each corresponding to one of four fields: Continue Reading »
For decades food manufacturers have marketed saccharin, along with other non-caloric artificial sweeteners (NAS), as healthy alternatives to sugar. Artificial sugar substitutes cannot be digested by humans and have been recommended for patients with diabetes and for those trying to lose weight. However, a new report in the journal Nature suggests that NAS are harmful to metabolic health. In this study, saccharin given to mice and to healthy human subjects worsened glucose control compared to sugar, and had the paradoxical effect of increasing blood glucose levels.
Saccharin increased blood glucose in mice (Suez et al. doi:10.1038/nature13793)
Lead investigator Eran Elinov and his colleagues showed that the intestinal microbiota was responsible for the adverse metabolic effects of saccharin. Saccharin increased numbers of Bacteroides bacteria in the gut and also increased the density of bacteria in the Enterobacteriaceae group while decreasing the number of certain beneficial bacteria, such as Akkermansia mucinophila. Remarkably when fecal bacteria from saccharin-fed humans were transferred to germ-free mice, the mice became glucose intolerant, similar to their human donors. Some human subjects were non-responders, maintaining normal metabolism of glucose after exposure to saccharin. Fecal samples from non-responders were inoculated into germ free mice without causing glucose intolerance. These findings indicate a causal role for the microbiota in the impairment of metabolism by artificial sweeteners.
Bernard Crespi has for several years developed evidence to support the theory, first proposed with CR Badcock, that schizophrenia and autism are flip sides of excessive or deficient maternal or paternal imprinting. A study published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society b finds further support from data on size at birth and risks of schizophrenia and autism in 1.75 million Danes. Smaller babies are at increased risk for schizophrenia, larger babies are at increased risk for autism. A press release is here. Details below.
Opposite risk patterns for autism and schizophrenia are associated with normal variation in birth size: phenotypic support for hypothesized diametric gene-dosage effects
By Sean G. Byars, Stephen C. Stearns, and Jacobus J. Boomsma
Proc. R. Soc. B 7 November 2014 vol. 281 no. 1794 20140604 doi: 10.1098/rspb.2014.0604 (not open access)
Abstract: Opposite phenotypic and behavioural traits associated with copy number variation and disruptions to imprinted genes with parent-of-origin effects have led to the hypothesis that autism and schizophrenia share molecular risk factors and pathogenic mechanisms, but a direct phenotypic comparison of how their risks covary has not been attempted. Here, we use health registry data collected on Denmark’s roughly 5 million residents between 1978 and 2009 to detect opposing risks of autism and schizophrenia depending on normal variation (mean ± 1 s.d.) in adjusted birth size, which we use as a proxy for diametric gene-dosage variation in utero. Above-average-sized babies (weight, 3691–4090 g; length, 52.8–54.3 cm) had significantly higher risk for autism spectrum (AS) and significantly lower risk for schizophrenia spectrum (SS) disorders. By contrast, below-average-sized babies (2891–3290 g; 49.7–51.2 cm) had significantly lower risk for AS and significantly higher risk for SS disorders. This is the first study directly comparing autism and schizophrenia risks in the same population, and provides the first large-scale empirical support for the hypothesis that diametric gene-dosage effects contribute to these disorders. Only the kinship theory of genomic imprinting predicts the opposing risk patterns that we discovered, suggesting that molecular research on mental disease risk would benefit from considering evolutionary theory.
Over the past several weeks the health news has been dominated by the outbreak of infections by Ebola virus (EBOV) in several West African nations: Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria. A study (Gire et al., 2014) published online at the end of August and now in print by a large collaborative group based in the U.S., the U.K., or West Africa applied massively parallel sequencing of the genomes of clinical isolates of the Ebola virus primarily from Sierra Leone. The results bear on the origins of the outbreak and the transmission patterns of the responsible virus lineages and may inform future investigations pertaining to diagnostic tests, the development of vaccines, and the design of therapies based on small-molecule drugs or biologics. Continue Reading »
A link here and on the right hand column of this page (“For Medical students”), takes you to a new page that is creating a network of medical and other health professional students who share an interest in evolution, medicine, and public health. If you are such a student, click the link to add your information, and/or to offer to help to organize students at your university.
Authors: Kirsten I. Bos, Kelly M. Harkins, Alexander Herbig, Mireia Coscolla, Nico Weber, Iñaki Comas, Stephen A. Forrest, Josephine M. Bryant, Simon R. Harris, Verena J. Schuenemann, Tessa J. Campbell, Kerrtu Majander, Alicia K. Wilbur, Ricardo A. Guichon, Dawnie L. Wolfe Steadman, Della Collins Cook, Stefan Niemann, Marcel A. Behr, Martin Zumarraga, Ricardo Bastida, Daniel Huson, Kay Nieselt, Douglas Young, Julian Parkhill, Jane E. Buikstra, Sebastien Gagneux, Anne C. Stone & Johannes Krause
By Alcock, Joe, Maley, Carlo C., & Aktipis, C. Athena. (2014). Is eating behavior manipulated by the gastrointestinal microbiota? Evolutionary pressures and potential mechanisms. Bioessays, n/a-n/a. doi: 10.1002/bies.201400071
Abstract: Microbes in the gastrointestinal tract are under selective pressure to manipulate host eating behavior to increase their fitness, sometimes at the expense of host fitness. Microbes may do this through two potential strategies: (i) generating cravings for foods that they specialize on or foods that suppress their competitors, or (ii) inducing dysphoria until we eat foods that enhance their fitness. We review several potential mechanisms for microbial control over eating behavior including microbial influence on reward and satiety pathways, production of toxins that alter mood, changes to receptors including taste receptors, and hijacking of the vagus nerve, the neural axis between the gut and the brain. We also review the evidence for alternative explanations for cravings and unhealthy eating behavior. Because microbiota are easily manipulatable by prebiotics, probiotics, antibiotics, fecal transplants, and dietary changes, altering our microbiota offers a tractable approach to otherwise intractable problems of obesity and unhealthy eating.