Posts by The Editors

Progress on reconstituting the depleted biome to prevent immune disorders

A review and update of an important topic

By William Parker and Rajendra A. Morey
Departments of Surgery (WP) and Psychiatry (RAM)
Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27707

Historical Developments

The story of resolving immune dysfunction in Western society is one of uncovering a profound evolutionary mismatch. The story began 39 years ago when a parasitologist, John Turton, intentionally colonized himself with the human hookworm and eliminated his own hayfever [1].  Sadly, the story is littered with long pauses, and Turton’s observations went unappreciated for decades. The story took a new turn in the late 1980s when David Strachan pointed an accusing finger at some aspects of modern sanitation as being responsible for the plague of chronic immune disease affecting Western society [2]. READ MORE »

Grants available for evolutionary medicine research in Zurich

The Centre for Evolutionary Medicine (ZEM), University of Zurich, is calling for grant applications.  The applicants are free to submit any research project within the wider field of Evolutionary Medicine,  preferably, but not exclusively, on the study of the evolution of human musculo-skeletal disease.  Primary current ZEM research topics (which show the area of research projects covered by this  scheme) can be found at

Evolution and Cancer Conference at UCSF June 12-16

From Unicellularity to Multicellularity and Back Again
2nd International Biannual Evolution and Cancer Conference at UCSF

Registration now open

Keynote talks by Mel Greaves and Anna Barker


  1. cancer suppression in the evolution of multicellularity and
  2. applying insights from the evolution of single cellular organisms to the study of cancer

Sessions include:

  • Insights  from Experimental Evolution
  • Cancer  and the Evolution of Multicellularity
  • Dynamics of Somatic Evolution
  • Peto’s  Paradox, Comparative Oncology and the Evolution of Tumor Suppression
  • Somatic  Mutation and Levels of Selection
  • Applying  the Tools of Evolutionary Biology to Cancer
  • Life  History Theory in Cancer
  • The Evolutionary Medicine of Cancer


Paleofantasy: New book by Marlene Zuk

Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us about Sex, Diet, and How We Live

By Marlene Zuk  (Norton, 2013)

Free sample from NCSE     Review in Salon   Review in the WSJ  Review in Nature


Weight loss from gastric bypass via changed microbiota?

Conserved Shifts in the Gut Microbiota Due to Gastric Bypass Reduce Host Weight and Adiposity
Liou, Alice P., Paziuk, Melissa, Luevano, Jesus-Mario, Machineni, Sriram, Turnbaugh, Peter J., & Kaplan, Lee M. (2013).
Science Translational Medicine, 5(178), 178ra141. doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3005687  (Not open access)

Roux-en-Y gastric bypass (RYGB) results in rapid weight loss, reduced adiposity, and improved glucose metabolism. These effects are not simply attributable to decreased caloric intake or absorption, but the mechanisms linking rearrangement of the gastrointestinal tract to these metabolic outcomes are largely unknown. Studies in humans and rats have shown that RYGB restructures the gut microbiota, prompting the hypothesis that some of the effects of RYGB are caused by altered host-microbial interactions. To test this hypothesis, we used a mouse model READ MORE »

Positive selection for alleles that increase inflammation

Common Risk Alleles for Inflammatory Diseases Are Targets of Recent Positive Selection
Towfique Raj, Manik Kuchroo, Joseph M. Replogle, Soumya Raychaudhuri, Barbara E. Stranger, Philip L. De Jager
The American Journal of Human Genetics – 21 March 2013       Not Open Access

Genome-wide association studies (GWASs) have identified hundreds of loci harboring genetic variation influencing inflammatory-disease susceptibility in humans. It has been hypothesized that present day inflammatory diseases may have arisen, in part, due to pleiotropic effects of host resistance to pathogens over the course of human history, with significant selective pressures acting to increase host resistance to pathogens. READ MORE »

Antibiotic exposure increases risk of inflammatory bowel disease

Antibiotic Exposure and IBD Development Among Children: A Population-Based Cohort Study

By Matthew P. Kronman, Theoklis E. Zaoutis, Kevin Haynes, Rui Feng,and Susan E. Coffin

Pediatrics 2012; 130:4 e794-e803  Open Access

OBJECTIVE: To determine whether childhood antianaerobic antibiotic exposure is associated with the development of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

METHODS: This retrospective cohort study employed data from 464 UK ambulatory practices participating in The Health Improvement Network. All children with ≥2 years of follow-up from 1994 to 2009 were followed between practice enrollment and IBD development, practice deregistration, 19 years of age, or deat
; those with previous IBD were excluded. All antibiotic prescriptions were captured. Antianaerobic antibiotic agents were defined as penicillin, amoxicillin, ampicillin, penicillin/β-lactamase inhibitor combinations, tetracyclines, clindamycin,  READ MORE »

Cancer stem cells as ‘units of selection’

By Mel Greaves, in Evol Appl. 2013 Jan;6(1):102-8. doi: 10.1111/eva.12017. Open access

Cancer development is widely recognized to be a somatic cell evolutionary process with complex dynamics and highly variable time frames. Variant cells and descendent subclones gain competitive advantage via their fitness in relation to micro-environmental selective pressures. In this context, the ‘unit’ of selection is the cell, but not any cell. The so-called ‘cancer stem cells’ have the essential properties required to function as the key units of selection, particularly with respect to their proliferative potential and longevity. These cells drive evolutionary progression of disease and provide reservoirs for relapse or recurrence and drug resistance. They represent the prime, but elusive and moving, targets for therapeutic control.

Have TB strains co-evolved with human subpopulations?

HIV Infection Disrupts the Sympatric Host–Pathogen Relationship in Human Tuberculosis    By  Fenner L, Egger M, Bodmer T, Furrer H, Ballif M, et al. (2013) . PLoS Genet 9(3): e1003318. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1003318   Open Access

Author Summary  Human tuberculosis (TB) caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis kills 1.5 million people each year. M. tuberculosis has been affecting humans for millennia, suggesting that different strain lineages may be adapted to specific human populations. The combination of a particular strain lineage and its corresponding patient population can be classified as READ MORE »

Explanation for stabilization of cooperative virulence: A model and experimental evolution

Stabilization of cooperative virulence by the expression of an avirulent phenotype, by Diard, M., Garcia, V., Maier, L., Remus-Emsermann, M. N. P., Regoes, R. R., Ackermann, M., & Hardt, W.-D. (2013). . [10.1038/nature11913]. Nature, 494(7437), 353-356.  (see the end of this post for abstract) READ MORE »

Preeclampsia and Parent-Offspring Conflict

Parent-Offspring Conflict and the Persistence of Pregnancy-Induced Hypertension in Modern Humans

By  Hollegaard B, Byars SG, Lykke J, Boomsma JJ (2013) .PLoS ONE 8(2): e56821. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0056821  Open access

Abstract: Preeclampsia is a major cause of perinatal mortality and disease affecting 5–10% of all pregnancies worldwide, but its etiology remains poorly understood despite considerable research effort. Parent-offspring conflict theory suggests that such hypertensive disorders of pregnancy may have evolved through the ability of fetal genes to increase maternal blood pressure as this enhances general nutrient supply. However,


An Evolutionary Perspective on Epistasis and the Missing Heritability

By Hemani G, Knott S, Haley C (2013) . PLoS Genet 9(2): e1003295.doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1003295  (open access)

The relative importance between additive and non-additive genetic variance has been widely argued in quantitative genetics. By approaching this question from an evolutionary perspective we show that, while additive variance can be maintained under selection at a low level for some patterns of epistasis, the majority of the genetic variance that will persist is actually non-additive. We propose that one reason that the problem of the “missing heritability” arises is because READ MORE »

Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health journal launched

The first issue of Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health has been published.   The journal is edited by Stephen Stearns and published by the Oxford University Press.    The Table of Contents is below.  All articles are Open Access.

Editorial  by Stephen C. Stearns

EMPH (2013) 2013: 1-2 doi:10.1093/emph/eos001

Extract     FREE Full Text (HTML)     FREE Full Text (PDF)


Original Research Articles READ MORE »

Marlene Zuk on Paleofantasies

Her article is in the current issue of The Chronicle Review.

Article begins: The first thing you have to do to study 4,000-year-old DNA is take off your clothes.  I am standing with Oddný Ósk Sverrisdóttir in the airlock room next to the ancient-DNA laboratory at Uppsala University, in Sweden, preparing to see how she and her colleagues examine the bones of human beings and the animals they domesticated thousands of years ago. These scientists are looking for signs of changes in the genes that allow us to consume dairy products past the age of weaning,  Read more 


Multiple origins of the appendix

Smith, H. F., Parker, W., Kotzé, S. H., & Laurin, M.

Multiple independent appearances of the cecal appendix in mammalian evolution and an investigation of related ecological and anatomical factors.

Comptes Rendus Palevol(0). doi: (not open access)

Abstract:  Although the cecal appendix has been widely viewed as a vestige with no known function or a remnant of a formerly utilized digestive organ, the evolutionary history of this anatomical structure is currently unresolved. A database was compiled for 361 mammalian species, and appendix characters were mapped onto a consensus phylogeny along with other gastrointestinal and behavioral characters. No correlation was found between appearance of an appendix and evolutionary changes in diet, fermentation strategy, coprophagia, social group size, activity pattern, cecal shape, or colonic separation mechanism. Appendix presence and size are positively correlated with cecum and colon size, even though this relationship rests largely on the larger size of cecum and colon in taxa that have an appendix. The appendix has evolved minimally 32 times, but was lost fewer than seven times, READ MORE »

Corbett and Morin-Papunen on the Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

The Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and recent human evolution
By Corbett SMorin-Papunen L.
Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2013 Jan 23. pii: S0303-7207(13)00004-X. doi: 10.1016/j.mce.2013.01.001. (not open access)

Abstract: The Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a complex endocrine disorder characterised both by reproductive and metabolic disturbance, and is the most common cause globally of ovarian infertility. It is also a familial polygenic condition, linked genetically to both Type 2 diabetes and the metabolic syndrome. The striking evolutionary paradox of this prominent genetically-based condition, which impairs fertility, is that not only should it have diminished in prevalence, but it should have done so rapidly READ MORE »

Ewald and Ewald on oncogenesis

Toward a general evolutionary theory of oncogenesis (pages 70–81)

By Paul W. Ewald and Holly A. Swain Ewald

Evolutionary Applications   Special Issue: Cancer    Volume 6, Issue 1, pages 70–81, January 2013

Abstract: We propose an evolutionary framework, the barrier theory of cancer, which is based on the distinction between barriers to oncogenesis and restraints. Barriers are defined as mechanisms that prevent oncogenesis. Restraints, which are more numerous, inhibit but do not prevent oncogenesis. READ MORE »

Journal of Evolutionary Medicine ToC for 2012

The new Journal of Evolutionary Medicine, edited by Paul Ewald, has published 5 articles since its initiation in late 2012.  See below for titles and links to open access articles.

Welcome to a New Journal——Journal of Evolutionary Medicine, Paul W. Ewald
Volume 1 (2012), Article ID Q120501, 1 Page   Published: May 2012

Two new articles on how evolutionary understanding can advance cancer research

 The Jan 2013 Special Issue of Evolutionary Applications about cancer has two review articles on how evolutionary principles can advance cancer research.  They offer somewhat different, but complementary visions of how applications of principles from evoluitonary biology can  advance cancer research. They are open access and can be downloaded by clicking the titles below. READ MORE »

Evolutionary Applications Special Issue on Cancer

Evolutionary Applications, an open-access journal edited by Louis Bernatchez, has just published a special issue on cancer.     This is a milestone for evolutionary medicine, and perhaps for cancer research as well. The special issue, edited by  Frederic Thomas, Michael Hochberg, Athena Aktipis, Carlo Maley and Ursula Hibner, offers 14  articles. The first and last articles are broad reviews. The rest are on topics ranging from etiology, to tumor ecology, and new strategies for chemotherapy.    Together, they make it vividly clear that malignancies are products of somatic evolution in individual bodies that develop, or do not, because of how natural selection shaped traits that increase vulnerability, and capacities for resistance, in rapidly changing environments.  The Evolution and Medicine Review will feature several articles in coming days. In the meanwhile, see the Table of Contents below, with links to the full articles.  READ MORE »

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