Posts in category evolutionary medicine

New article in Science: Helminth infection, fecundity, and age of first pregnancy in women

A recently published paper in Science explores the association between helminth infection and pregnancy, finding that different parasitic worms are associated with different effects on women’s fecundity.

Blackwell, Aaron D., et al. “Helminth infection, fecundity, and age of first pregnancy in women.” Science 350.6263 (2015): 970-972.

Infection with intestinal helminths results in immunological changes that influence co-infections, and might influence fecundity by inducing immunological states affecting conception and pregnancy. We investigated associations between intestinal helminths and fertility in women, using 9 years of longitudinal data from 986 Bolivian forager-horticulturalists, experiencing natural fertility and 70% helminth prevalence. We found that different species of helminth are associated with contrasting effects on fecundity. Infection with roundworm (Ascaris lumbricoides) is associated with earlier first births and shortened interbirth intervals, whereas infection with hookworm is associated with delayed first pregnancy and extended interbirth intervals. Thus, helminths may have important effects on human fertility that reflect physiological and immunological consequences of infection.

Click here for the full article

New research article in EMPH: Effects of wildfire disaster exposure on birth weight

Original Research Article

Effects of wildfire disaster exposure on male birth weight in an Australian population.
M. H. O’Donnell and A. M. Behie
Evol Med Public Health published 15 November 2015, 10.1093/emph/eov027
Click here for the full article.

Evidence suggests that stress during pregnancy changes fetal development.
Pregnant women who experienced an Australian wildfire had male babies
with higher-than-usual birth weights. These changes might result from
evolutionary adaptations that enhance child or maternal survival and may
reflect the impact of stress on maternal metabolism.


Stearns – Medzhitov textbook Evolutionary Medicine is available now

Evolutionary Medicine

  • Stephen C. Stearns, the Edward P Bass Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale University
  • Ruslan Medzhitov, the David W. Wallace Professor of Immunobiology at Yale University School of Medicine and an Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute

This textbook is intended for use in undergraduate, graduate, medical school, and continuing medical education (CME) courses, aimed at both students and professionals in medicine and public health.  It discusses the evolution of patients and diseases, defenses and pathogens, cancer as an evolutionary process, vulnerabilities created by the evolution of reproduction, mismatch to modern environments, the evolution of mental disorders, and conflicts between the good of the individual patient and the welfare of the population (see brief Table of Contents below and detailed Table of Contents via the following link). This book’s professional illustrations and summaries of chapters and sections make its messages readily accessible. READ MORE »

Only six more weeks to submit your article without publication fees! All articles will be considered for the $5000 George Williams Prize

Evolution, Medicine & Public Health
Evolution, Medicine & Public Health

Nietzsche Undone: An Infection that Doesn’t Kill You Can Make You Weaker

The German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, is known for a number of ideas among which a particularly oft-quoted one is, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” ( A recent report in Cell (Fonseca et al., 2015) offers evidence that in the context of infection and immunity, the above aphorism may not be a reliable guide to reality. READ MORE »

Royal Society PhilTrans B special issue on “The sociality-health-fitness nexus”

26 May 2015; volume 370, issue 1669


  • Introduction:

    Sociality and health: impacts of sociality on disease susceptibility and transmission in animal and human societies

    Peter M. Kappeler, Sylvia Cremer, Charles L. Nunn


  • Review article:

    Social immunity and the evolution of group living in insects

    Joël Meunier
  • Review article:

    Implications of the behavioural immune system for social behaviour and human health in the modern world


Using evolutionary medicine to guide clinical treatment decisions

An article in EMPH by Andrew Read and Robert Woods may be the first to document the application of evolutionary  principles to make important clinical decisions about a specific patient. Woods, Robert J., and Andrew F. Read. “Clinical management of resistance evolution in a bacterial infection: a case study.” Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health (2015): eov025.

Abstract:  We report the case of a patient with a chronic bacterial infection that could not be cured. Drug treatment became progressively less effective due to antibiotic resistance, and the patient died, in effect from overwhelming evolution. Even though the evolution of drug resistance was recognized as a major threat, and the fundamentals of drug resistance evolution are well understood, it was impossible to make evidence-based decisions about the evolutionary risks associated with the various treatment options. We present this case to illustrate the urgent need for translational research in the evolutionary medicine of antibiotic resistance.

A related article in PNAS outlines the opportunities for the clinical application of the principles of evolutionary ecology in the clinic.

Apply for funding from the Zurich Institute of Evolutionary Medicine

Annual IEM Grant

2016 IEM Grant

The Institute of Evolutionary Medicine (IEM), University of Zurich, is now calling for grant applications. Submission deadline is December 1st, 2015. All relevant details regarding the submission can be found in the call for applications

2015 IEM Grant

The 2015-IEM Grant has been awarded to Prof. Dominik J. Schaer and Dr. Jeremy Deuel (Division of Internal Medicine, University Hospital, Zurich) for the following project (abstract):

Evolutionary diversity, competition and adaption of innate defense against hemoglobin toxicity

Hemolytic conditions such as malaria, sickle cell disease or glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency had an enormous impact on human evolution. One of the immediate pathophysiologic components of hemolysis is free hemoglobin (Hb), which is released from red blood cells (RBC) that are destroyed within the circulation. An even broader impact of free Hb on evolution must be expected from its pathophysiologic effects at wound sites and during hemolysis associated with certain bacterial infections. The biologic adverse effects that can be triggered by free Hb include vascular dysfunction, oxidative damage and immune response modulation. Mammalian species have an efficient Hb defense system composed of plasma scavenger proteins, such as haptoglobin, and specific macrophage clearance receptors. Evolutionary pressures such as malaria are hypothesized to have distinguished human Hb clearance mechanisms from other species. An alternative and structurally unique system has been identified in chicken, which is considered to represent an ancient species genetically related to dinosaurs. In this project we will compare structural and functional properties of the ancient chicken and the modern mammalian Hb defense systems. These data may shed new light on the role of hemolysis, Hb toxicity and the related defense pathways in human evolution

The dynamics of antibody repertoires–Special issue of Phil Trans RS B

Special Theme issue on  “The dynamics of antibody repertoires,” compiled and edited by Sarah Cobey, Frederick A Matsen IV and Patrick Wilson in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.Open access during November. 


  • Review article:

    The evolution within us

    Sarah Cobey, Patrick Wilson, Frederick A. Matsen


  •  Review article:

    The analysis of clonal expansions in normal and autoimmune B cell repertoires

    Uri Hershberg, Eline T. Luning Prak
  • Research article:

    The mouse antibody heavy chain repertoire is germline-focused and highly variable between inbred strains

    Andrew M. Collins, Yan Wang, Krishna M. Roskin, Christopher P. Marquis, Katherine J. L. Jackson
  • Review article:

    Restricted, canonical, stereotyped and convergent immunoglobulin responses

    Carole J. Henry Dunand, Patrick C. Wilson
  • Research article:

    Ageing of the B-cell repertoire

    Victoria Martin, Yu-Chang (Bryan) Wu, David Kipling, Deborah Dunn-Walters
  • Research article:

    Assigning and visualizing germline genes in antibody repertoires

    Simon D. W. Frost, Ben Murrell, A. S. Md. Mukarram Hossain, Gregg J. Silverman, Sergei L. KosakovskyPond
  • Research article:

    Inferring processes underlying B-cell repertoire diversity

    Yuval Elhanati, Zachary Sethna, Quentin Marcou, Curtis G. Callan, Thierry Mora, Aleksandra M. Walczak
  • Research article:

    Quantifying evolutionary constraints on B-cell affinity maturation

    Connor O. McCoy, Trevor Bedford, Vladimir N. Minin, Philip Bradley, Harlan Robins, Frederick A. Matsen
  • Research article:

    The mutation patterns in B-cell immunoglobulin receptors reflect the influence of selection acting at multiple time-scales

    Gur Yaari, Jennifer I. C. Benichou, Jason A. Vander Heiden, Steven H. Kleinstein, Yoram Louzoun
  •  Research article:

    Trade-offs in antibody repertoires to complex antigens

    Lauren M. Childs, Edward B. Baskerville, Sarah Cobey
  •  Research article:

    Masking of antigenic epitopes by antibodies shapes the humoral immune response to influenza

    Veronika I. Zarnitsyna, Ali H. Ellebedy, Carl Davis, Joshy Jacob, Rafi Ahmed, Rustom Antia
  •  Review article:

    The challenges of modelling antibody repertoire dynamics in HIV infection

    Shishi Luo, Alan S. Perelson
  • Research article:

    Dynamics of immunoglobulin sequence diversity in HIV-1 infected individuals

    Kenneth B. Hoehn, Astrid Gall, Rachael Bashford-Rogers, S. J. Fidler, S. Kaye, J. N. Weber, M. O.McClure, SPARTAC Trial Investigators, Paul Kellam, Oliver G. Pybus


Within-host dynamics of infection–Special issue Phil Transactions B

Special Theme issue on  ‘Within-host dynamics of infection: from ecological insights to evolutionary predictions,’ compiled and edited by Olivier Restif and Andrea L. Graham in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. Open access during November. 

  • Introduction:

    Within-host dynamics of infection: from ecological insights to evolutionary predictions

    Olivier Restif, Andrea L. Graham
  • Research article:

    How is the effectiveness of immune surveillance impacted by the spatial distribution of spreading infections?

    Ulrich D. Kadolsky, Andrew J. Yates
  • Opinion piece:

    Estimating T-cell repertoire diversity: limitations of classical estimators and a new approach

    Daniel J. Laydon, Charles R. M. Bangham, Becca Asquith
  • Research article:

    Effects of neutralizing antibodies on escape from CD8+ T-cell responses in HIV-1 infection
    Paul S. Wikramaratna, José Lourenço, Paul Klenerman, Oliver G. Pybus, Sunetra Gupta
  • Review article:

    The within-host dynamics of African trypanosome infections

    Keith R. Matthews, Richard McCulloch, Liam J. Morrison
  • Review article:

    Within-host competitive interactions as a mechanism for the maintenance of parasite diversity

    Farrah Bashey
  • Research article:

    Within-host competition between Borrelia afzelii ospC strains in wild hosts as revealed by massively parallel amplicon sequencing
    Maria Strandh, Lars Råberg
  • Research article:

    Evaluating the within-host fitness effects of mutations fixed during virus adaptation to different ecotypes of a new host

    Julia Hillung, José M. Cuevas, Santiago F. Elena
  • Research article:

    The evolution of bacterial resistance against bacteriophages in the horse chestnut phyllosphere is general across both space and time

    Britt Koskella, Nicole Parr
  • Research article:

    Interactions between multiple helminths and the gut microbiota in wild rodents

    Jakub Kreisinger, Géraldine Bastien, Heidi C Hauffe, Julian Marchesi, Sarah E Perkins
  • Review article:

    Suppression of inflammation by helminths: a role for the gut microbiota?

    Paul Giacomin, John Croese, Lutz Krause, Alex Loukas, Cinzia Cantacessi
  • Review article:

    The role of the local microbial ecosystem in respiratory health and disease

    Wouter A. A. de Steenhuijsen Piters, Elisabeth A. M. Sanders, Debby Bogaert
  • Review article:

    Building the microbiome in health and disease: niche construction and social conflict in bacteria

    Luke McNally, Sam P. Brown
  • Review article:

    The tortoise or the hare? Impacts of within-host dynamics on transmission success of arthropod-borne viruses

    Benjamin M. Althouse, Kathryn A. Hanley
  • Research article:

    Avian malaria: a new lease of life for an old experimental model to study the evolutionary ecology of Plasmodium
    Romain Pigeault, Julien Vézilier, Stéphane Cornet, Flore Zélé, Antoine Nicot, Philippe Perret, SylvainGandon, Ana Rivero
  • Opinion piece:

    Crossing the scale from within-host infection dynamics to between-host transmission fitness: a discussion of current assumptions and knowledge

    Andreas Handel, Pejman Rohani
  • Research article:

    From within-host interactions to epidemiological competition: a general model for multiple infections

    Mircea T. Sofonea, Samuel Alizon, Yannis Michalakis


New article in Evolution, Medicine, & Public Health

All articles  published in EMPH in 2015 will be considered for the $5,000 George C Williams Prize.  Starting in January 2016, publication charges for this open-access journal will be $2,000 for nonmembers, and $1,000 for members of the International Society for Evolution, Medicine & Public Health. 

Original Research Article

  • Claire E. Margerison-Zilko,
  • Julia M. Goodman,
  • Elizabeth Anderson,
  • Alison Gemmill,
  • and Ralph A. Catalano

Post-term birth as a response to environmental stress: The case of September 11, 2001EMPH (2015) 2015: 13 first published online January 16, 2015

Abstract    Full Text (HTML)    Full Text (PDF)




The Darwin Cancer Blog

This new blog by Prof. Mel Greaves and brought to you by the British Journal of Cancer,  provides a forum for the discussion of how an evolutionary perspective is changing thinking about cancer. Highly recommended.

Peto’s Paradox Redux

Ducasse, Hugo, Beata Ujvari, Eric Solary, Marion Vittecoq, Audrey Arnal, Florence Bernex, Nelly Pirot, et al. 2015. “Can Peto’s Paradox Be Used as the Null Hypothesis to Identify the Role of Evolution in Natural Resistance to Cancer? A Critical Review.” BMC Cancer 15 (1): 792. doi:10.1186/s12885-015-1782-z.


Carcinogenesis affects not only humans but almost all metazoan species. Understanding the rules driving the occurrence of cancers in the wild is currently expected to provide crucial insights into identifying how some species may have evolved efficient cancer resistance mechanisms. Recently the absence of correlation across species between cancer prevalence and body size (coined as Peto’s paradox) has attracted a lot of attention.

New EMPH article – Case study of resistance evolution in a bacterial infection

Clinical management of resistance evolution in a bacterial infection: a case study
Robert J Woods and Andrew F Read
Evol Med Public Health published 10 October 2015, 10.1093/emph/eov025
This chronic bacterial infection evolved extensive resistance, killing
the patient. Evolutionary science is insufficiently developed to better
manage such life-threatening evolution.

Evolution & Cancer Newsweek feature story

This week’s Newsweek cover story
is about evolution and cancer. It features the work of Joshua Schiffman, who co-authored a 2003 article reporting the first major study of  evolutionary biology in the medical curriculum and has since become a leading  evolution and cancer researcher.

The article is linked here.


Baba Brinkman to perform at Anímo Leadership High School in Inglewood, CA on Wednesday, September 30, from 2 – 3 PM

Baba Brinkman, heralded by the New York Times as a “must-see off-Broadway performance” has devoted his time and energy to education through the use of rap music. Beginning with performances on the Canterbury tales, he has expanded his repertoire to include full CD’s on: climate change, evolution, medicine and others. These songs teach detailed and accurate scientific principles through humor, visuals, and art.

Through a special arrangement, Baba will be at Anímo Leadership High School on Wednesday September 30th, from 2-3pm. His science-rap performance will teach students about evolution in a way that is both fun and engaging.

Click here for Baba Brinkman’s youtube channel and here for one of his evolutionary-themed raps.

Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, UCLA Professor and author of “Zoobiquity”, will also be visiting Anímo Leadership High School on February 8th, for the evolutionary-medicine themed “Darwin Day”.





Complex systems and evolutionary medicine symposium at CCS2015

What complex systems offers to evolutionary medicine
A symposium at the Conference on Complex Systems 2015
8:30-5:00 Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Redrock Room Doubletree Conference Center Tempe, Arizona


Microbial Warfare and the Ecological Dynamics of Cystic Fibrosis Lung Disease

In a previous EMR post from December 30 of 2014 (see link below), I discussed a study (Science, 2014) that offered evidence for reciprocal selection of host and pathogen iron-binding proteins arising out the competition for their shared ligand, which is critical to the metabolisms of both parties to the conflict. A recent paper (J. Bacteriol., 2015) by Filkins et al. demonstrates another sort of competition focused on the acquisition of iron that can affect human health. This conflict occurs between two species of bacterial pathogen associated with lung disease in cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. READ MORE »

What diet is healthy? It depends on where your ancestors lived.


Living in the far north exposes humans to selection forces that select for specific genes with large effects…and major implications for diet recommendations.

Fumagalli, Matteo, Ida Moltke, Niels Grarup, Fernando Racimo, Peter Bjerregaard, Marit E. Jørgensen, Thorfinn S. Korneliussen et al. “Greenlandic Inuit show genetic signatures of diet and climate adaptation.” Science 349, no. 6254 (2015): 1343-1347.

The indigenous people of Greenland, the Inuit, have lived for a long time in the extreme conditions of the Arctic, including low annual temperatures, and with a specialized diet rich in protein and fatty acids, particularly omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). A scan of Inuit genomes for signatures of adaptation revealed signals at several loci, with the strongest signal located in a cluster of fatty acid desaturases that determine PUFA levels. The selected alleles are associated with multiple metabolic and anthropometric phenotypes and have large effect sizes for weight and height, with the effect on height replicated in Europeans. By analyzing membrane lipids, we found that the selected alleles modulate fatty acid composition, which may affect the regulation of growth hormones. Thus, the Inuit have genetic and physiological adaptations to a diet rich in PUFAs.

Also see a very nice related story by Carl Zimmer in the NYTimes.

Microchimerism–Carl Zimmer commentary recent papers

Carl Zimmer provides fine NYTimes coverage of a recent BioEssays paper by Boddy, Wilson-Sayres, Fortuno,  and Aktipis, titled “Fetal microchimerism and maternal health: A review and evolutionary analysis of cooperation and conflict beyond the womb” The paper is open access.

“A Pregnancy Souvenir: Cells That Are Not Your Own”  by Carl Zimmer in The New York Times
Recently, a team of pathologists at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands carried out an experiment that might seem doomed to failure.

They collected tissue from 26 women who had died during or just after pregnancy. All of them had been carrying sons. The pathologists then stained the samples to check for Y chromosomes.

Essentially, the scientists were looking for male cells in female bodies. And their search was stunningly successful. READ MORE »

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