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 »

Report on the 2015 ISEMPH meeting published in Evolutionary Anthropology

Connecting Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health by Nunn, C.L., I. Wallace, C.M. Beall
Evolutionary Anthropology 24: 127-129, 2015.  DOI 10.1002/evan.21451 [link]

This report on the inaugural meeting of the International Society for Evolution, Medicine & Public Health hosted by the ASU Center for Evolutionary Medicine, highlights relevant talks and themes including “evolutionary mismatch”, comparative medicine, infectious disease, and the microbiome. The conference  drew over 300 scientists and scholars from around the world.  Harvey Fineberg, President of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation was the keynote speaker. Rap artist Baba Brinkman’s debut of “The Rap Guide to ^Evolutionary Medicine” was a conference highlight. It is a great teaching resource and well as great entertainment, available free online.  The meeting invigorated the field and paving the way for interdisciplinary collaboration, and a second meeting, scheduled for June 22-25, 2016 in Durham, NC. Details will be sent to ISEMPH members this week.

Article text: Many evolutionary anthropologists are actively involved in the emerging field of evolutionary medicine, which is a global, interdisciplinary effort to use evolutionary perspectives to understand and improve human health. READ MORE »

Linking Evolution, Ecology, and Health: TriCEM

An article by C.L. Nunn, S.C. Alberts, C.R. McClain, S.R. Meshnick, T.J. Vision, B.M. Wiegmann, & A.G. Rodrigo in BioScience 65(8): 748-749, 2015.  doi:10.1093/biosci/biv086 [link]

This article highlights the importance of initiatives such as the Triangle Center for Evolutionary Medicine (TriCEM) and  The International Society for Evolution, Medicine & Public Health (ISEMPH), and the National Science Foundation– supported National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) in stimulating research and providing education and outreach in the field of evolutionary medicine.

Ecological and evolutionary perspectives are essential for understanding human health. Consider, for example, the Ebola virus, which is thought to erupt from bat populations through contact among humans, bats, and other wildlife. In the ongoing outbreak in West Africa, the index case was a 2-year-old boy who may have played in and around a tree that was home to a colony of bats (Saéz et al. 2015). Thus, interactions between humans and wildlife in a highly disturbed ecological habitat probably served as the spark that ignited this epidemic that has killed more than 20,000 people (Baize et al. 2014). Every transmission of the Ebola virus to a new host represents an opportunity for natural selection and therefore for evolution of the virus. Some strains have longer chains of transmission, with more mutations, enabling viruses to discover more fit phenotypes. Phylogenetic analyses revealed the great extent of evolutionary change that occurred early in this latest epidemic, with 73 nonsynonymous substitutions among 78 infected individuals (link to full article)

How do proteins evolve? Video of ESEB Keynote by Dan Tawfik

Yet another fabulous video of a talk at ESEB in Lausanne last week.

Dan Tawfik, Weizmann Institute of Science, on “How do proteins evolve?”

Video of Kevin Foster’s ESEB keynote on cooperation in microbes

The European Society for Evolutionary Biology meeting in Lausanne last week featured scores of talks relevant to evolution and medicine, including at least a dozen on cooperation in microbes.  Who would have guessed that Bill Hamilton’s ideas would prove crucial to understanding biofilms and antibiotic resistance?  In a stunning keynote, Kevin Foster reviews how microbes cooperate, and the strategies they use to keep defectors in check. Every health professional who treats infections should watch the video, and everyone else will want to, it is that  fascinating.

Evolutionary Determinants of Cancer

Mel Greaves, The Institute of Cancer Research

July 20, 2015, doi: 10.1158/2159-8290.CD-15-0439 Full Text PDF


Our understanding of cancer is being transformed by exploring clonal diversity, drug resistance, and causation within an evolutionary framework. The therapeutic resilience of advanced cancer is a consequence of its character as a complex, dynamic, and adaptive ecosystem engendering robustness, underpinned by genetic diversity and epigenetic plasticity. The risk of mutation-driven escape by self-renewing cells is intrinsic to multicellularity but is countered by multiple restraints, facilitating increasing complexity and longevity of species. But our own species has disrupted this historical narrative by rapidly escalating intrinsic risk. Evolutionary principles illuminate these challenges and provide new avenues to explore for more effective control.

Significance: Lifetime risk of cancer now approximates to 50% in Western societies. And, despite many advances, the outcome for patients with disseminated disease remains poor, with drug resistance the norm. An evolutionary perspective may provide a clearer understanding of how cancer clones develop robustness and why, for us as a species, risk is now off the scale. And, perhaps, of what we might best do to achieve more effective control. Cancer Discov; 5(8); 1–15. ©2015 AACR.

New articles in EMPH

Microbiology and Ecology Are Vitally Important to Premedical Curricula
Val H. Smith, Rebecca J. Rubinstein, Serry Park, Libusha Kelly, and Vanja
Evol Med Public Health published 21 July 2015, 10.1093/emph/eov014

Clinical Brief

Horizontal Gene Transfer
Alita R. Burmeister
Evol Med Public Health published 29 July 2015, 10.1093/emph/eov018

Original Research Article

Why did children grow so well at hard times? The ultimate importance of
pathogen control during puberty
Peeter Hõrak and Markus Valge
Evol Med Public Health published 21 July 2015, 10.1093/emph/eov017
Europeans became larger and smarter throughout the 20^th century despite
the temporally worsening access to nutrients during and after WWII.
Measurements of Estonian adolescent girls born between 1938 -1953 suggest
that a reduction of disease burden during puberty drives secular trends,
overriding the adverse effects of resource shortage at birth.

The evolution of capture myopathy in hooved mammals: a model for human
stress cardiomyopathy?
Daniel T. Blumstein, Janet Buckner, Sajan Shah, Shane Patel, Michael E.
Alfaro, and Barbara Natterson-Horowitz
Evol Med Public Health published 21 July 2015, 10.1093/emph/eov015

Capture myopathy in hooved mammals and human Takotsubo syndrome
John E. Madias
Evol Med Public Health published 28 September 2015, 10.1093/emph/eov023

Toward an evolutionary model of cancer: Considering the mechanisms that govern the fate of somatic mutations

Andrii I. Rozhok and James DeGregori

PNAS July 21, 2015 vol. 112 no. 298914-8921


Our understanding of cancer has greatly advanced since Nordling [Nordling CO (1953) Br J Cancer7(1):68–72] and Armitage and Doll [Armitage P, Doll R (1954) Br J Cancer 8(1):1–12] put forth the multistage model of carcinogenesis. READ MORE »

Selection shaped us to be endurance athletes…AND couch potatoes!

“Is Exercise Really Medicine? An Evolutionary Perspective:”
By Daniel E. Lieberman
Current Sports Medicine Reports 14, no. 4 (2015): 313–19.
Click here for the open access pdf

This superb short evolutionary analysis of the role of exercise in human health should be required reading for everyone interested in exercise and health…that is, all health professionals, and most of the rest of us us.  Lieberman shows that we were shaped to be endurance athletes by the benefits of chasing big game animals until they could go no further. But our ancestors also faced intermittent calorie shortages that shaped mechanisms to minimize unnecessary exercise, and to shrink unneeded tissues. Extensive daily exercise was so intrinsic to human life that the health benefits of exercise were never a selection force.

Several quotes offer eloquent summaries: READ MORE »

New articles in Evolution, Medicine & Public Health

After a long history of applying the sterile insect technique to suppress populations of disease vectors and agricultural pests, there is growing interest in using genetic engineering both to improve old methods and to enable new methods. The two goals of interventions are to suppress populations, possibly eradicating a species altogether, or to abolish the vector’s competence to transmit a parasite. New methods enabled by genetic engineering include the use of selfish genes toward either goal as well as a variety of killer-rescue systems that could be used for vector competence reduction. This paper reviews old and new methods with an emphasis on the potential for evolution of resistance to these strategies. Established methods of population suppression did not obviously face a problem from resistance evolution, but newer technologies might. Resistance to these newer interventions will often be mechanism-specific, and while it is too early to know where resistance evolution will become a problem, it is at least possible to propose properties of interventions that will be more or less effective in blocking resistance evolution.

John H McCullough
Clinical Brief:  Iron Restriction 
Full Text (PDF)

Amber Gigi Hoi and   Luseadra McKerracher
Clinical Brief:  Breastfeeding and infant growth 
Full Text (PDF)

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 »

Fighting HIV Evolution with an Evolved Therapeutic Agent: Phase I Dose Escalation Clinical Trial of a Potent Broadly Neutralizing Human Antibody

In previous commentaries (http://evmedreview.com/?p=1863; http://evmedreview.com/?p=837; http://evmedreview.com/?p=385), I have discussed the critical role of extensive B-cell and immunoglobulin gene evolution in generating broadly neutralizing antibodies for HIV-1.  Of course, the unprecedented magnitude of antibody evolution necessary to achieve potent neutralization of a high percentage of HIV strains reflects the unprecedented evolutionary plasticity of HIV that originates in both high mutation and recombination rates for the HIV genome (Korber et al., 2001).  A new study by Caskey et al. (Nature, 2015) from the Nussenzweig Laboratory reports results for a first-in-human dose escalation phase I clinical trial of a human monoclonal antibody (mAb) specific for the HIV envelope (env) protein. READ MORE »

Ashley Montague on Anthropology and Medicine

Thanks to Holly Smith who provided a copy of a lovely little 1947 article in The Interne, by Ashley  Montague titled, Anthropology in Medicine.
Some quotes offer crucial historical perspective, such as: “Any suggestion that another course should be added to the already overcrowded medical curriculum will justly be viewed with alarm” He goes on to suggest that an anthropological perspective is crucial for physicians to have a view of the whole person in context, and to recognize individual variation as intrinsic to science and medicine.  Click here for the full pdf.

Montague 1947
Montague 1947
Montague titled,

MICROBIOTA Mother’s littlest helpers

By Katie Hinde and  Zachery T. Lewis
Science 26 June 2015:
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac7436 (not open access)

Commensal bacteria underlie, in part, our nutritional status, immune function, and psychological well-being. The trillions of beneficial microbes within our intestinal tract convert dietary nutrients, inhibit pathogen colonization, regulate immune processes, and produce neural signals (1, 2). Advances in our understanding of the importance of microbes have motivated the commercial development of products intended to boost “good” commensals and confer health benefits. Probiotic dietary supplements contain live beneficial microbes hoped to subsequently colonize the gut. Prebiotic nutrients are thought to enhance good gastrointestinal microflora by preferentially nourishing beneficial microbes. Even “psychobiotics” are being explored to ameliorate symptoms of psychiatric illness. These live organisms influence the brain through metabolites and neuroactive compounds in rodent models and preliminary human studies (3). How to most effectively be the landscape architects of our microbial community, however, often remains unclear. An opportunity to gain insights into how natural selection has shaped the coevolution of hosts and microbes can be found in mammalian mother-infant dyads, as our microbiota are ecologically engineered by mothers and breastmilk. Such insights can be leveraged to improve clinical management and nutritional technologies, enhancing human health not just in infancy, but across the life course (4, 5).  Read more (not open access)

Extent of Tumor Evolution as Assessed by Numbers of Nonsynonymous Somatic Mutations Correlates with the Effectiveness of Anti-Checkpoint Therapy

It would be hard to identify an approach to cancer treatment that has received more attention recently than anti-checkpoint therapy (Pollack, 2015).  This strategy for eliminating tumor cells is based on interfering with one or another pathway that inhibits the initial activation or functions of T cells, such as CD8+ cytotoxic T cells (CTL).  Activated tumor-specific CTL can directly kill their targets.  However, if copies of the T-cell surface molecule, PD-1, are bound by their physiological ligands on tumor cells, either PD-L1 or PD-L2, or other cells the ability of the T cell to perform its functions is substantially reduced.  A report published in Science (2015) by Rizvi et al. last month addresses the question of whether tumor mutation burden correlates with response to anti-checkpoint therapy for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).


Causes and consequences of coagulation activation in sepsis: an evolutionary medicine perspective

By Maiara Marx Luz Fiusa, Marco Antonio Carvalho-Filho1, Joyce M Annichino-Bizzacchi and Erich V De Paula
Published in BMC Med. 2015 May 6;13(1):105. doi: 10.1186/s12916-015-0327-2. (open access)


BACKGROUND: Coagulation and innate immunity have been linked together for at least 450 million years of evolution. Sepsis, one of the world’s leading causes of death, is probably the condition in which this evolutionary link is more evident. However, the biological and the clinical relevance of this association have only recently gained the attention of the scientific community.

DISCUSSION: During sepsis, READ MORE »

Stearns – Medzhitov textbook to be published in August

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.

To view Chapter 5 and the detailed Table of Contents visit the ‘Sample Content’ link:
http://www.sinauer.com/evolutionary-medicine-704.html READ MORE »

A Functional Classification of Genomic Elements Informed by the Principles of Evolution

In an EMR commentary (http://evomed.org/?p=1644) from March two years ago, I discussed issues related to the functional classification of genomic DNA sequences that arose in the context of claims from the ENCODE (ENCyclopedia Of DNA Elements) consortium.  A particular focus of that piece was an article by Graur and colleagues (2013) that offered an often humorous but rather stinging critique of the definition of “function” applied by the ENCODE authors to genomic DNA sequences.  Graur and two of his associates have now published (2015) an interesting and valuable functional classification of genomic sequences that is critically informed by their understanding of evolution. READ MORE »

Zurich EvMed meeting: Travel support available, Abstracts due NOW


Travel support for this meeting is available from Tri-CEM, the new evolutionary medicine Center at Duke University directed by Charlie Nunn.

The abstract deadline is NOW!

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.

All abstracts for mini-symposia, oral and poster presentations will be reviewed by a scientific committee and – when accepted – published in the Journal of Evolutionary Medicine. The best student abstract will be awarded a prize by the scientific committee. Students can also apply for a competitive travel grant.


This is the sister meeting to the recent meeting of the International Society for Evolution, Medicine and Public Health at Arizona State University’s Center for Evolution and Medicine 

An evolutionary strategy for treating metastases

Divergent and convergent evolution in metastases suggest treatment strategies based on specific metastatic sites

By Jessica J. Cunningham, Joel S. Brown, Thomas L. Vincent, and Robert A. Gatenby

In Evol Med Public Health published 20 March 2015, 10.1093/emph/eov006   (open access)

Abstract: Cancer cells, although maximally fit at their primary site, typically have lower fitness on the adaptive landscapes offered by the metastatic sites due to organ-specific variations in mesenchymal properties and signaling pathways. Clinically evident metastases will exhibit time-dependent divergence from the phenotypic mean of the primary population as the tumor cells evolve and adapt to their new circumstances. In contrast, tumors from different primary sites evolving on identical metastatic adaptive landscapes exhibit phenotypic convergence so that, for example, metastases in the liver from different primary tumors will evolve toward similar adaptive phenotypes. The combination of evolutionary divergence from the primary cancer phenotype and convergence towards similar adaptive strategies in the same tissue cause significant variations in treatment responses particularly for highly targeted therapies. This suggest that optimal therapies for disseminated cancer must take into account the site(s) of metastatic growth as well as the primary organ.

Contributions and suggestions welcome

Please email Editor@evmedreview.com