The Evolution and Medicine Review

…bridging the gap.

Evolutionary biology takes a hard look at IVF and human conception

My eyes boggled earlier this week as I leafed through The Guardian newspaper and came across the story of an Indian woman who had just had her IVF baby boy safely delivered. The woman, Daljinder Kaur, was reported to be 72 years old – her husband, Mohinder Singh Gill, 79. It was their first successful pregnancy in 46 years of marriage. The eggs had been donated of course – nobody’s ovaries perform at that great age – but this septuagenarian uterus had managed to implant an embryo and its owner carry the subsequent fetus successfully to term. And it wasn’t the first geriatric pregnancy achieved by the head of the Test Tube Baby Center in Hisar, Anurag Bishnoi.

Stories like this invite us to believe that there is almost limitless potential for human reproduction, especially when it is assisted by reproductive technologies like IVF. And it is probably not for us to judge on the advisability of two seventy year-olds embarking on child rearing for the first time even if we grimly suspect that endless hours of night nursing and nappy-changing, at that age, will inevitably take their toll. Indeed, a brief overview of our apparently crowded planet – 7.4 billion people and counting – also gives us an inflated picture of human fecundity. But the truth is that we are one of the least fecund species on the planet – as the 46 fruitless years spent by our Indian couple show – and a number of reproductive biologists, informed by evolution, are beginning to unravel the inside story of human fertility to explain why. It involves a staggering amount of genetic abnormality in human early embryos, the huge costs, particularly in humans, of maternal investment in offspring, and a challenge to the tenets of assisted reproduction technology.

It only involved 23 good-quality human embryos, and was rather discreetly published as a technical report in Nature Medicine, say reproductive scientists Jan Brosens and Birgit Gellersen, but it may have changed our understanding of human reproduction for ever.

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Omenn Prize to Barroso-Batista et al. for an article on adaptive immunity

The Gilbert S. Omenn Prize is awarded by the International Society for Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health for the best article published each year on a topic related to evolution in the context of medicine and public health.  The prize for 2015 goes to, “Adaptive immunity increases the pace and predictability of evolutionary chance in commensal gut bacteria” by Joao Barroso-Batista, Jocelyne Demengeot and Isabel Gordo from the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia, Portugal.

The article appeared in Nature Communications 6: 8945, 2015 and is open access. First author Joao Barroso-Batista, a graduate student, will receive the $5,000 prize and present a talk at the 2016 ISEMPH meeting in North Carolina. The prize is made possible by a generous donation from Gilbert Omenn. The Prize Committee—Andrew Read, David Haig, Grazyna Jasienska —found the paper an impressive experimental demonstration of the processes driving bacterial evolution within individual hosts. Joao Barroso-Batista et al. show that immune deficiency slows the rate of bacterial adaptation and makes it less predictable. Evidently, beneficial alleles confer stronger evolutionary advantages in animals with intact immunity.

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Are mice good models for understanding human disease? An evolutionary perspective

Perlman, Robert. (2016). “Mouse Models of Human Disease: An Evolutionary Perspective”. Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health, DOI: 10.1093/emph/eow014

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ISEMPH Meeting Program Posted–Registration fees increase May 1

The June 22-25th meeting of the International Society for Evolution, Medicine & Public Health program is now available.

Registration fees increase on May 1st. 

To register for the meeting click here.
Visit the conference website
To print a version of this poster, click here



Why human evolution should be a basic science for medicine and psychology students

A really elegant essay from Paola Palanza and Stefano Parmigiana from the Department of Neuroscience, Unit of Behavioral Biology, at the University of Parma in Italy. Great advocates for the teaching of evolution to medical students! Here is the abstract to this open access paper:

“Based on our teaching experience in medicine and psychology degree programs, we examine different aspects of human evolution that can help students to understand how the human body and mind work and why they are vulnerable to certain diseases. Three main issues are discussed: 1) the necessity to consider not only the mechanisms, i.e. the “proximate causations”, implicated in biological processes but also why these mechanisms have evolved, i.e. the “ultimate causations” or “adaptive significance”, to understand the functioning and malfunctioning of human body and mind; 2) examples of how human vulnerabilities to disease are caused by phylogenetic constraints, evolutionary tradeoffs reflecting the combined actions of natural and sexual selection, and/or mismatch between past and present environment (i.e., evolution of the eye, teeth and diets, erect posture and their consequences); 3) human pair-bonding and parent-offspring relationships as the result of socio-sexual selection and evolutionary compromises between cooperation and conflict. These psychobiological mechanisms are interwoven with our brain developmental plasticity and the effects of culture in shaping our behavior and mind, and allow a better understanding of functional (normal) and dysfunctional (pathological) behaviors. Thus, because the study of human evolution offers a powerful framework for clinical practice and research, the curriculum studiorum of medical and psychology students should include evolutionary biology and human phylogeny.”

Abstracts available for the 2015 Evolutionary Medicine Conference at the University of Zurich

Staub, Kaspar, et al. (2015). “Abstracts for the “Evolutionary Medicine Conference: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Human Health and Disease” at the University of Zurich, Switzerland (July 30–August 1, 2015)”. Journal of Evolutionary Medicine, DOI: 10.4303/jem/235924

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Evolution & Medicine Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at ASU

Evolution & Medicine Postdoctoral Research Fellowship  at Arizona State University Salary: $60,000   Reference # 11557

The Center for Evolution & Medicine (CEM) at Arizona State University (ASU) invites applications from exceptional early career scientists for the Evolution & Medicine Research Fellowship. The Fellowship brings talented researchers with a recently awarded M.D. or Ph.D. to the ASU campus to develop and extend their own independent research agendas in conjunction with CEM faculty and their labs. Additionally, fellows will work with their mentors to develop skills in the areas of outreach, education and grant writing. Possible research areas include, but are not limited to, co-evolution and infectious diseases, regulation of inflammation and other defenses, autoimmune disorders, cancer, female reproductive health, lactation, and factors that influence disease susceptibility. The proposed research project is expected to potentially demonstrate the utility of evolutionary sciences for medicine or public health.

The Center for Evolution & Medicine is a university-wide Presidential Initiative directed by Randolph Nesse. Its mission is to improve human health by establishing evolutionary biology as an essential basic science for medicine, worldwide. It supports research that demonstrates the power of evolutionary biology to advance the understanding, prevention, and treatment of disease, as well as teaching and outreach initiatives. See for details and information on the Core Faculty.

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How can evolutionary concepts be incorporated into medical curricula?

Rühli, Frank, et al. (2016). “Novel Modules to Teach Evolutionary Medicine: an Australian and a Swiss Experience.” Medical Science Educator, DOI: 10.1007/s40670-016-0245-8

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Can Neanderthal genomics reveal the time frame for the first epidemiological transition?

American Journal of Physical Anthropology CoverHouldcroft, Charlotte Jane, and Simon Underdown. (2016). “Neanderthal Genomics Suggests a Pleistocene Time Frame for the First Epidemiologic Transition.” American Journal of Physical Anthropology, DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.22985

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Assistant Professorship in Paleogenetics at the University of Zurich

The Institute of Evolutionary Medicine (Director: Prof. Dr. Frank Rühli) at the University of Zurich invites applications for an Assistant Professorship in Paleogenetics. We are looking for a young and dynamic personality at an early stage in his/her career, flexible and willing to contribute significantly to this dynamic research area. Click here to apply for this position and see below for additional details.

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