Evolutionary genomic medicine

Rodríguez JA, Marigorta UM, Navarro A. Integrating genomics into evolutionary medicine. Curr. Opin. Genet. Dev. 2014;29:97-102

Also see an interesting blog post on Paleophile

Abstract: The application of the principles of evolutionary biology into medicine was suggested long ago and is already providing insight into the ultimate causes of disease. However, a full systematic integration of medical genomics and evolutionary medicine is still missing. Here, we briefly review some cases where the combination of the two fields has proven profitable and highlight two of the main issues hindering the development of evolutionary genomic medicine as a mature field, namely the dissociation between fitness and health and the still considerable difficulties in predicting phenotypes from genotypes. We use publicly available data to illustrate both problems and conclude that new approaches are needed for evolutionary genomic medicine to overcome these obstacles.

Evolutionary medicine approach to COPD

An Evolutionary Medicine Approach to Understanding Factors That Contribute to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

 By Aoshiba K(1), Tsuji T, Itoh M, Yamaguchi K, Nakamura H.
Tokyo Medical University Ibaraki Medical Center, Inashiki, Japan.

Published in Respiration. 2015 Feb 10. [Epub ahead of print] (Not open access)

Although many studies have been published on the causes and mechanisms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the reason for the existence of COPD and the reasons why COPD develops in humans have hardly been studied. Evolutionary medical approaches are required to explain not only the proximate factors, such as the causes and mechanisms of a disease, but the ultimate (evolutionary) factors as well, such as why the disease is present and why the disease develops in humans. According to the concepts of evolutionary medicine, disease susceptibility is acquired as a result of natural selection during the evolutionary process of traits linked to the genes involved in disease susceptibility. In this paper, we discuss the following six reasons why COPD develops in humans based on current evolutionary medical theories: (1) evolutionary constraints; (2) mismatch between environmental changes and evolution; (3) co-evolution with pathogenic microorganisms; (4) life history trade-off; (5) defenses and their costs, and (6) reproductive success at the expense of health. Our perspective pursues evolutionary answers to the fundamental question, ‘Why are humans susceptible to this common disease, COPD, despite their long evolutionary history?’ We believe that the perspectives offered by evolutionary medicine are essential for researchers to better understand the significance of their work.

Dr. Darwin — Article in Proto, the Mass General Hospital magazine


Dr Darwin  an article By Timothy Gower, Art by Tim O’Brien  published in Proto, Winter, 2015   (open access)

Can a refresher course in the laws of natural selection help doctors better understand human health and illness?

ANDREW READ RECENTLY SPENT SIX MONTHS on the wards at the University of Michigan Medical Center, observing doctors who treat infectious disease. He recalls one patient, a woman whose bacterial pneumonia resisted treatment by every antibiotic available, and who perished after 18 months. “She died of uncontrolled evolution,” says Read, an evolutionary biologist at Pennsylvania State University who studies antimicrobial resistance. “One of my colleagues said, ‘This was a failure of our science,’ and I agree entirely. We did not know how to slow evolution down.” READ MORE »

Research Coordination Network on infectious disease evolution

The Infectious Disease Evolution Across Scales RCN seeks applicants for research exchanges and workshops

The NSF-funded Research Coordination Network (RCN) focusing on infectious disease evolution is excited to fund several research exchanges as well as annual workshops. The RCN is focused on integrating new theoretical and empirical tools for the study of infectious diseases across scales of biological organization, with the goal of bridging the existing knowledge gap in this field. Network activities will build collaborations among microbiologists, immunologists, epidemiologists and evolutionary biologists via both workshops and research exchanges. If you are interested in applying to either visit our website: http://ideas.princeton.edu/

Research exchanges are short-term (<3 week) exchanges allowing researchers the opportunity READ MORE »

Feb 16 deadline for Zurich EvMed Conference Mini-Symposia

The deadlines for mini-symposia suggestions (Feb 16) and for standard abstracts (Mar 30) are approaching!

Clicking the picture to the right for full info

Evolutionary Medicine Conference: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Human Health and Disease
July 30 – August 1, 2015
Institute of Evolutionary Medicine (IEM)   University of Zurich, Switzerland

This international conference will bring together distinguished keynote speakers as well as experts from different research areas (including medicine, anthropology, molecular/evolutionary biology, paleopathology, archaeology, epidemiology, and other fields) to debate the evolutionary origins of diseases and on how the knowledge of the past informs the present and the future. Furthermore, the specific implications of interdisciplinary research in the understanding and management of human health issues will be addressed.


Launch of the George C. Williams Prize for the best article in Evolution, Medicine, & Public Health


The International Society for Evolution, Medicine and Public Health is proud to announce the launch of the George C. Williams Prize.

The $5,000 Prize will be awarded to the first author of the most significant article published in 2015 in the Society’s flagship journal, Evolution, Medicine and Public Health. Oxford University Press publishes the journal open access.  Stephen Stearns is the editor.  Author’s fees are waived for 2015. All articles published in 2015 will be automatically considered for the Prize.
George C. Williams
George C. Williams

The Prize recognizes the contributions of George C Williams to evolutionary medicine, and aims to encourage and highlight important research in this growing field. In a seminal 1957 paper, Williams initiated work on several problems central to medicine, including an evolutionary theory of aging and life history traits including menopause. He did important work on the problem of why sex exists.  Perhaps his most lasting contribution is his 1966 book Adaptation and Natural Selection, a critique of group selection that transformed how biologists think about the evolution of sociality.  In the 1990′s he collaborated with Randolph Nesse on a series of papers and a book that inspired much ongoing work on how evolutionary biology can help us understand disease and improve human health.

The Society’s Publications Committee, chaired by Andrew Read, will appoint the Prize Committee.  The Prize Committee will interpret the criterion of “most significant article” with attention to the focus on major unanswered questions that characterized the work of George Williams. Articles by members of the Prize Committee and their students and close colleagues are not eligible for the prize. Members of the Publications Committee and their students and close colleagues are eligible with special restrictions.

For full information see
http://evolutionarymedicine.org or http://emph.oxfordjournals.com.
For information about the Society’s inaugural meeting March 19-21 seehttp://evmedmeeting.org

Putting the Kill in “Shock and Kill”: Overcoming Evolutionary Obstacles to HIV Cure

According to estimates by the World Health Organization, in 2013 on the order of 35 million people were infected with HIV worldwide (http://www.who.int/gho/hiv/en/).  Globally, about 1.5 million people are believed to have died from AIDS-related diseases in that year.  Substantial, although perhaps not insurmountable, obstacles to the development of a highly effective vaccine for HIV-1 have increased interest in curative strategies.  A key challenge to cure strategies is that infected people harbor a latent reservoir of infected CD4+ memory T cells that do not express significant amounts of viral proteins.  The paucity of viral proteins in these cells makes it more difficult to identify infected cells and eradicate them.  A new study (Deng et al., 2015) in Nature from Robert Siliciano’s lab at Johns Hopkins identifies an additional difficulty faced by one of the currently popular approaches to curative therapy but also, more optimistically, suggests a way to overcome this challenge. READ MORE »

Papillomaviruses: viral evolution, cancer and evolutionary medicine

By  Ignacio G. Bravo and Marta Félez-Sánchez

  Evol Med Public Health published 28 January 2015, 10.1093/emph/eov003

Abstract:   Papillomaviruses (PVs) are a numerous family of small dsDNA viruses infecting virtually all mammals. PVs cause infections without triggering a strong immune response, and natural infection provides only limited protection against reinfection. Most PVs are part and parcel of the skin microbiota. In some cases, infections by certain PVs take diverse clinical presentations, from highly productive self-limited warts to invasive cancers. READ MORE »

Using Systems Biology to Understand Cancer as an Evolutionary Process

By John W. Pepper, Barbara K. Dunn, Richard M. Fagerstrom, John K. Gohagan, and Nadarajen A. Vydelingum

 Journal of Evolutionary Medicine    Vol. 2 (2014), Article ID 235678, 8 pages    doi:10.4303/jem/235678  (open access)


Unsatisfactory progress in cancer medicine and prevention calls for new research approaches. Research can broaden its view of cancer to include not only specific molecular elements, but also the process that explains their origin and dynamics. This process is Darwinian evolution of somatic cells. Applicable modeling techniques are available from process-oriented systems biology. We review relevant concepts and techniques, and their application to four key open questions in cancer prevention research. Helpful concepts are transferable from classical evolutionary biology and ecology, while useful techniques include computational agent-based modeling. The research questions we review include (1) why do benign neoplasms often progress to malignancy? (2) what is the chronological sequence of molecular events in cancer progression? (3) how can we find reliable molecular biomarkers for cancer? and (4) will evolved drug resistance stymie efforts at a long-term cancer chemoprevention? We conclude that molecular analysis can be usefully augmented with process-oriented systems biology to guide empirical research into the most productive directions.


28 articles nominated for the Omenn Prize

The 28 articles  nominated for the 2014 Omenn Prize by the deadline are listed below. The prize of $5000 will be awarded in March 2015 for the best  article published in 2014 in any scientific journal on a topic related to evolution in the context of medicine and public health.  The Prize is made possible by a generous donation from Gilbert Omenn to the International Society for Evolution, Medicine, & Public Health. The prize committee is chaired by Sarah Tishkoff; the other committee members are Joe Alcock, Noah Rosenberg, and Alison Galvani. READ MORE »

Over 500 people on the Evolution & Medicine Network list–Add your information

The International Society for Evolution, Medicine, & Public Health maintains a list of over 500 people who work in areas at the interface of evolution and medicine/public health.   The purpose of The Evolution and Medicine Network  is to facilitate contact among those with shared interests.  If, for instance, you are giving a talk in London, you can quickly find out people there who shares your interests.

If your research or teaching is focused in an area related to evolution and medicine and you would like to make it possible for others to find you please add your information to the list. It will take under a minute.

New articles published in Evolution, Medicine, & Public Health

  Illness in breastfeeding infants relates to concentration of lactoferrin and secretory Immunoglobulin A in mother’s milk
By Alicia A Breakey, Katie Hinde, Claudia R Valeggia, Allison Sinofsky, and  Peter T Ellison

Evol Med Public Health published 20 January 2015, 10.1093/emph/eov002
We tested the relationship between infant illness and two immune factors
in milk, lactoferrin and secretory immunoglobulin A (sIgA). We found that
milk lactoferrin is positively related to symptoms of illness, suggesting
a responsive pattern, while milk sIgA is negatively related to illness,
suggesting it has a protective role. Milk lactoferrin is positively
related to symptoms of illness, while milk sIgA is negatively related to
illness among Toba infants.

  Post-term birth as a response to environmental stress: the case of September 11, 2001
  Claire Margerison-Zilko, Julia M. Goodman, Elizabeth Anderson, Alison Gemmill, and Ralph A. Catalano

Evol Med Public Health published 16 January 2015, 10.1093/emph/eov001
The odds of post-term delivery among gestations exposed to the terrorist
attacks of September 2001 in the 33-36th week of gestation were higher
than statistically expected. This finding provides support for our
hypothesis that maternal exposure to stress late in pregnancy may result
in an adaptive response of prolonged gestation.


Jan 21 deadline for $5,000 Omenn Prize in Evolution & Medicine

The International Society for Evolution, Medicine, & Public Health invites nominations for the Omenn Prize of $5000 to be awarded in March 2015 for the best  article published in 2014 in any scientific journal on a topic related to evolution in the context of medicine and public health. READ MORE »

Jan 8 & 10 deadlines for ISEMPH meeting travel award applications

The International Society for Evolution, Medicine, & Public Health meeting March 19-21 in Arizona has support for student and faculty travel awards, thanks to the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, the Triangle Center for Evolution and Medicine, and donations to the Foundation for Evolution, Medicine, & Public Health. Meeting details are at http://evmedmeeting.org.  Applications for travel awards may be submitted  without first registering for the conference.   Deadlines Jan 8 and Jan 10. READ MORE »

Cellular ‘Gold’: Competition for Iron as the Cause of Reciprocal Positive Selection of Host and Pathogen Iron-Binding Proteins

Iron is a critical metal for essential cellular processes, such as respiration, in both human and microbial cells.  Thus, in the context of infection, iron is a high-value cellular commodity and an evolutionist might reasonably expect a metallic tug-of-war between host and pathogen iron-binding proteins or other iron-binding molecules (siderophores).  This speculation is impressively supported in a paper published this month (Barber and Elde, 2014).  These authors provide strong evidence for positive selection affecting several sites in host (transferrin, Tf) and pathogen (transferrin binding protein A) iron-binding proteins based on a combination of genetic, structural, and functional experimental methods. READ MORE »

Cancer evolution: selection matters

The below essay by Andriy Marusyk provides a commentary to a recent article by Wong, et al. pertaining to the mechanisms of chemo/radio and therapy induced cancers. Prevailing views explain therapy-induced cancers by postulating induction of new driver mutations.  Whereas several previous reports have challenged this mutation centric view, the article by Wong, et al. is the first report that strongly implies increased selection for p53 mutant clones in secondary malignancies induced by radiation/chemotherapy in clinics.

Cancer evolution: selection matters

By Andriy Marusyk 

Cancers arise and progress because of the underlying somatic clonal evolution. READ MORE »

Does antibiotic resistance decrease when antibiotics are stopped?

Just published in Evolution, Medicine, & Public Health
Limits to compensatory adaptation and the persistence of antibiotic resistance in pathogenic bacteria
By Craig MacLean and Tom Vogwill

Evol Med Public Health published 21 December 2014, 10.1093/emph/eou032
http://emph.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2014/12/21/emph.eou032.abstract?papetoc  (open access)

Antibiotic resistance carries a fitness cost that could potentially limit the spread of resistance in bacterial pathogens. In spite of this cost, a large number of experimental evolution studies have found that resistance is stably maintained in the absence of antibiotics as a result of compensatory evolution. Clinical studies, on the other hand, READ MORE »

Fibrosis: ultimate and proximate causes

By  Victor J. Thannickal, Yong Zhou, Amit Gaggar, Steven R. Duncan
J. Clin. Invest. 124(11): 4673-4677 (2014). doi:10.1172/JCI74368.
Published in Volume 124, Issue 11 (November 3, 2014) (Not open access)

Abstract:  Fibrotic disorders account for an increasing burden of disease-associated morbidity and mortality worldwide. Although numerous risk factors have been recognized, the etiologies of many of these clinical syndromes have not been identified, and they are often termed idiopathic or cryptogenic. Here, we provide an evolutionary perspective on fibrosis aimed at elucidating its etiopathogenesis. By asking the ultimatequestion of “why” this process evolved in multicellular organisms, we hope to uncover proximateexplanations for “how” it causes disease in humans. We posit that physiological fibrosis-like reactions evolved as an essential process in host defense against pathogens and in normal wound healing. Based on this premise, we reason that pathological fibrosis is related to one or more of the following: unidentified infectious or noninfectious antigens, autoimmunity, impaired regenerative responses, and the antagonistically pleiotropic action of genes involved in wound healing or development. The importance of genetic susceptibility, epigenetics, aging, and the modern-day environment are highlighted. Consideration of both ultimate and proximate causation goes beyond philosophical cogitations, as it will better inform pathobiological mechanisms of disease and aid in the prevention and treatment of fibrotic diseases.

ISEMPH meeting travel support for faculty from under-represented groups

Funding is available from the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) and the Triangle Center for Evolutionary Medicine (TriCEM) to support travel by faculty from under-represented groups in science to the International Society for Evolution, Medicine, & Public Health meeting in Arizona March 19-21.    Applicants must be from an under-represented group in science and be on the faculty at a Minority Serving Institution or Historically Black College or University.
Submission Deadline: January 8, 2015
Notification: January 15, 2015

Social Status and Health NYtimes article about EMPH publication

Todays NYTimes has an article by  Christopher von Rueden summarizing his recent publication in Evolution, Medicine, & Public Health on how low social status influences health: Political influence associates with cortisol and health among egalitarian forager-farmers  (open access)

Evolution, Medicine, & Public Health is  the venue for important publications in our field. Publication fees are waived for a short time,  author’s instructions are here.

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)

Contributions and suggestions welcome

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