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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 (crespi@sfu.ca).

If you know of a book relevant to evolutionary medicine that you would like to see reviewed, please contact Steve Austad (austad@uthscsa.edu).  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 »

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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 »

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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.

Details at http://nescent.org/science/EvolutionaryMedicineCatalysis.php

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)
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.

Continue Reading »

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Registration and abstract submission are now open for the International Society for Evolution, Medicine, & Public Health Inaugural Meeting, March 19-21 in Tempe, Arizona.

The will be the first large open meeting soliciting abstracts from all in the field, world-wide.  It is co-sponsored by the Foundation for Evolution, Medicine, & Public Health and the ASU Center for Evolution and Medicine.  Charlie Nunn is the Chair of the Program Committee; Cynthia Beall and Randolph Nesse are working with him to create the program. Abstract submissions are welcome for talks, posters, discussions, and panel discussions.

Plenary Speakers include: Harvey Fineberg, Institute of Medicine, Stephen Stearns, Yale University, Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, UCLA, Sir Peter Gluckman, University of Auckland, Ann Demogines, (Omenn Award Winner)  BioFire Diagnostics, and Ruslan Medzhitov, Yale.  See the conference website for other speakers and details.

The meeting will be held at Arizona State University and the Tempe Mission Palms Hotel.

Full information is available at http://EvMedMeeting.org      

Register now at  http://www.regonline.com/evmed

Fees are substantially discounted for those who register early, and are refundable until February 15th.  The venue has  limited capacity, so all available slots may fill early.


Schiz-Authism copy
Schiz-Authism copy
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 »

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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.

 Pre-Columbian mycobacterial genomes reveal seals as a source of New World human tuberculosis    Nature  doi:10.1038/nature13591

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

See reports in The Economist   The New York Times  The BBC   Arizona State University 

Abstract:   Continue Reading »


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

See a nice commentary by Carl Zimmer in the NYTimes.

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.

By  Apari P, de Sousa JD, Müller V (2014) . in PLoS Pathog 10(8): e1004111. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1004111

In this Opinion piece we argue that the tendency of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to cause infertility is likely to reflect an evolutionary adaptation of the pathogens. We use an evolutionary perspective to understand how STI pathogens may benefit from reducing fertility in the host and what clues the mechanisms of pathogenesis can offer to the evolution of this ability. While we concentrate on human infections, we will also briefly discuss the broader context of STI-induced infertility in other species. Continue reading

Adaptive variability in the duration of critical windows of plasticity:   Implications for the programming of obesity
By  Jonathan CK Wells  Evol Med Public Health published 5 August 2014, 10.1093/emph/eou019

http://emph.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2014/08/05/emph.eou019.abstract?papetoc   (open access)

Abstract:  Developmental plasticity underlies widespread associations between early-life exposures and many components of adult phenotype, including the risk of chronic diseases. Humans take almost two decades to reach reproductive maturity, and yet the ‘critical windows’ of physiological sensitivity that confer developmental plasticity tend to close during fetal life or infancy.

Continue Reading »

Lively, C. M., Roode, J. C. d., Duffy, M. A., Graham, A. L., & Koskella, B. (2014).
Interesting Open Questions in Disease Ecology and Evolution.
The American Naturalist, 184(S1), S1-S8. doi: 10.1086/677032

Introduction:   Studies on the ecology and evolution of infectious diseases have expanded at an increasing rate over the last several decades (fig. 1). This interest seems to have originally stemmed from models suggesting that host-parasite interactions might explain previously anomalous features of the natural world, such as sexual reproduction (Hamilton 1980), female mate choice (Hamilton and Zuk 1982), the maintenance of genetic diversity (Haldane 1949), and the regulation of host populations (Anderson and May 1979; May and Anderson 1979). The interest was further increased by early theory on the evolution of parasite virulence (May and Anderson 1983) as well as by concerns regarding the emergence of infectious diseases. Here we present a short list of interesting open questions for future research. The questions are based on an American Society of Naturalists Symposium in 2013 entitled, “Disease Ecology, Evolution, and Coevolution.” Our list is not meant to be exhaustive, as many important questions remain, but we hope that it will encourage additional work in these areas.

The Questions are:

Question 1: What Is the Effect of Host Genetic Diversity on the Spread of Infectious Disease?

Question 2: How Is Host/Parasite Genetic Diversity Maintained?

Question 3: What Are the Effects of External Biotic and Abiotic Factors on Virulence and the Risk of Infection?

Question 4: Are Lessons Learned from Single Host-Parasite Pairings Generalizable to the Multihost-Multiparasite Networks That Dominate in Nature?

Question 5: What Is the Role of Host Microbiota in Shaping Disease Ecology and Evolution?

Altshuler and colleagues (Nature Genetics, 2014) recently reported a study of about 150,000 individuals representing five different ancestral groups in which they identified twelve low-frequency variants of the gene SLC30A8 through either genomic sequencing or genotyping.  These variants are all predicted to truncate the gene product (ZnT8), a protein involved in zinc transport in beta cells in the islets of Langerhans.  In beta cells, zinc is involved for insulin packaging and secretion.

Of particular interest, carriers possessing one or another of these loss-of-function mutations appeared to be at lower risk from type 2 diabetes (T2D).  Averaging over the different variants, these alleles provided an approximately 65% lower risk of T2D. Continue Reading »

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 Many have asked if there are meetings they can attend to learn more about evolutionary medicine and to get up-to-date on the latest advances.  Two just-announced major conferences will meet this need, one in Europe, one in the USA. Both will soon be inviting abstract submissions and meeting registrations.

July 30–August 1, 2015
Evolutionary Medicine Conference: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Human Health and Disease
Institute of Evolutionary Medicine (IEM), University of Zurich, Switzerland
Details at this link.   Meeting flyer available here as a pdf. 

March 19-21, 2015
Inaugural Meeting of the Society for Evolution, Medicine, & Public Health
Co-sponsored by the Foundation for Evolution, Medicine, & Public Health and
the Arizona State University Center for Evolution & Medicine
Details available soon here at the Evolution and Medicine Review.

Koren, Gideon, Madjunkova, Svetlana, & Maltepe, Caroline. (2014). The protective effects of nausea and vomiting of pregnancy against adverse fetal outcome—A systematic review. Reproductive Toxicology, 47(0), 77-80. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.reprotox.2014.05.012

The article considered 2367 articles and selected 16 for inclusion in a meta-analysis. They found dramatically lowered rates of miscarriage and congenital defects in women who had nausea and vomiting during pregnancy (NVP), with odds ratios often at one half that of women who did not have NVP.  The study says little about the potential confounding effects in such studies, and nothing about previous work by Profet, Flaxman & Sherman and others proposing that NVP is an adaptation shaped by natural selection. Flaxman, S. M., & Sherman, P. W. (2000). Morning sickness: a mechanism for protecting mother and embryo. Quarterly Review of Biology, 113-148.

Missing Microbes

Martin Blaser has written a terrific book, Missing Microbes,  about the dire effects of killing off the useful bacteria we evolved with.   Book excerpt here. 

Jane Brody commentary here

NYTimes review here and excerpted below.

Genes make you … you. But where do they come from? Antibiotics save lives, but their overuse is evolving supergerms and could be changing our bodies. Who pays what rent for which room? Just use this handy calculator and never fight at the end of the month again.
Subscribe to the Podcast » David Corcoran and Jeffery DelViscio

First and foremost, the war has escalated. Imprudent antibiotic use has resulted in widespread resistance among microbes; infectious disease doctors (I am one, as well as a casual acquaintance of Dr. Blaser’s) now operate in a state of permanent near panic as common infections demand increasingly powerful drugs for control.

Second, as always, it is the hapless bystanders who have suffered the most — not human beings, mind you, but the gazillions of benevolent, hardworking bacteria colonizing our skin and the inner linings of our gastrointestinal tracts. We need these good little creatures to survive, but even a short course of antibiotics can destroy their universe, with incalculable casualties and a devastated landscape. Sometimes neither the citizenry nor the habitat ever recovers.

And finally, there is the accumulation of disheartening evidence that the war against the old plagues is simply leading to worse wars against a whole series of new ones.


Wick, G., Jakic, B., Buszko, M., Wick, M. C., & Grundtman, C. (2014). The role of heat shock proteins in atherosclerosis. [Review]. Nat Rev Cardiol,  doi: 10.1038/nrcardio.2014.91 (not open access)

Vulnerability to atherosclerosis is looking more and more like a result of the trade-off between protection against infection vs. vascular preservation.  Or, is the immune response to HSP 60 better interpreted as an epiphenomenon?  The answer is important as therapies are created to take advantage of this new knowledge.

Abstract: Atherosclerosis is a chronic, multifactorial disease that starts in youth, manifests clinically later in life, and can lead to myocardial infarction, stroke, claudication, and death. Although inflammatory processes have long been known to be involved in atherogenesis, interest in this subject has grown in the past 30–40 years. Animal experiments and human analyses of early atherosclerotic lesions have shown that the first pathogenic event in atherogenesis is the intimal infiltration of T cells at arterial branching points. These T cells recognize heat shock protein (HSP)60, which is expressed together with adhesion molecules by endothelial cells in response to classic risk factors for atherosclerosis. Although these HSP60-reactive T cells initiate atherosclerosis, antibodies to HSP60 accelerate and perpetuate the disease. All healthy humans develop cellular and humoral immunity against microbial HSP60 by infection or vaccination. Given that prokaryotic (bacterial) and eukaryotic (for instance, human) HSP60 display substantial sequence homology, atherosclerosis might be the price we pay for this protective immunity, if risk factors stress the vascular endothelial cells beyond physiological conditions.

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