Club EvMed in February

Club EvMed in February

Thursday, February 10th at 12pm EST/18:00 CET
Candidate gene studies have taught us little about trait genetics but a lot about the fallibility of the scientific process

Join us for a conversation with Matt Keller, Associate Professor in the Dept. of Psychology & Neuroscience at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The candidate gene (CG) approach has been used for 30 years to investigate the influence of specific polymorphisms in genes thought a-priori to be related to complex traits. Thousands of such studies have been and continue to be conducted, most reporting significant associations. In the last 15 years, a much different approach, the genome-wide association study (GWAS), has been used to investigate nearly all common genetic polymorphisms across the genome at once. Using sample sizes orders of magnitude larger than typical CG studies, GWASs have made tens of thousands of reliable discoveries, but the effect sizes are typically much smaller than those detected in CG studies, and specific CG hypotheses have failed to replicate when directly interrogated in GWAS data. What might explain these apparent contradictions? It is possible that CG studies measure traits with higher precision or that they investigate less complex “endophenotypes,” but neither explanation holds up under scrutiny. Rather, CG studies suffer from many factors—publication bias, inconsistent methodological practices, low priors, and low power—that increase the false positive rate in any field. We argue that the many positive findings using the GC approach are largely false positives and are a humbling reminder of the fallibility of the scientific process as currently practiced.

Attendees are encouraged to read Duncan and Keller 2011, “A critical review of the first 10 years of candidate gene-by-environment interaction research in psychiatry” and Border et al. 2019, “No support for historical candidate gene or candidate gene-by-interaction hypotheses for major depression across multiple large samples.” Attendees may also be interested in a response to critique (Border et al. 2019) and a popular media article about this research (Yong). Sign up here for the meeting link:

Thursday, February 24th at 12pm EST/18:00 CET: Evolutionary medicine helps explain regional differences in pandemic dynamics: immunity, symbiosis, and COVID-19

Join us for a conversation with William Parker, CEO of WPLabs, Inc., and Dawit Wolday, Associate Professor of Medicine at Mekelle University College of Health Sciences. Data have been mounting for more than 50 years pointing toward the importance of “complex eukaryotic symbionts” in immune system development and function. These symbionts include protists, cestodes and nematodes, most of which have been lost to humans in high-income countries. Such loss is a direct result of the much-needed introduction of “systems hygiene” that effectively prevents pandemics of some communicable diseases. Unfortunately, available evidence indicates that the loss of complex eukaryotic symbionts in high-income countries can be defined as an evolutionary mismatch that leads to immune dysregulation and pathologic inflammation. With the immunological effects of these symbionts in mind, the speakers predicted that the presence of complex eukaryotic symbionts in areas without extensive systems hygiene would effectively decrease the clinical impact of COVID-19. This prediction was subsequently supported strongly by epidemiological evidence and eventually borne out in a study by Tobias Rinke de Wit, Dawit Wolday and colleagues in Ethiopia. Thus, evolutionary medicine proved a useful tool in understanding and anticipating regional differences in the clinical impact of COVID-19, and points toward the vital importance of understanding symbiotic relationships in the context of evolution and medicine.

Attendees are encouraged to read Parker et al. 2021, “Between a hygiene rock and a hygienic hard place: avoiding SARS-CoV-2 while needing environmental exposures for immunity” and Wolday et al. 2021, “Effect of co-infection with intestinal parasites on COVID-19 severity: a prospective observational cohort study.” Sign up here for the meeting link:

Two January ClubEvMed discussions

Two January ClubEvMed discussions

Spring 2022 Events

We’re pleased to announce our spring Club EvMed lineup. See you in 2022!

Control system failures and evolutionary medicine

Tuesday, January 11th at 12pm EST/18:00 CET

Join us for a conversation with Robert Perlman, Professor Emeritus of the Dept. of Pharmacological and Physiological Sciences at the University of Chicago, and Randolph Nesse, Research Professor of Life Sciences and Founding Director of the Center for Evolution & Medicine at Arizona State University. They will lead a discussion about how natural selection shaped the thousands of control systems that make life possible, how their failure modes can help us understand disease, and the evolutionary reasons why some are especially vulnerable to failure. The goal is to create a community interested in developing work at this intersection, so please come prepared to share examples of how we can study why some control systems are vulnerable to failure.

Attendees are encouraged to read Perlman 2019*, “An evolutionary view of homeostasis: bioenergetics, life history theory, and responses to pregnancy” and Nesse 2021, “Evolutionary medicine needs engineering expertise.” Sign up here for the meeting link.
*Note: If you do not have access to this article, please contact us for assistance.

A Natural History of the Future

Tuesday, January 18th at 12pm EST/18:00 CET

picture of Rob Dunn and the cover of his book, A Natural History of the Future

Join us for a conversation with Rob Dunn, William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor of Applied Ecology at North Carolina State University. Drawing on his recent book, Rob Dunn argues that humans remain far more dependent on nature and nature’s regularities/rules/laws than tends to be presupposed. Focusing on the special case of microbiomes, Dunn considers the question, just how many microbial species do we depend on and how might we ensure that they travel with us into the future? In concluding, he will open up the question to the group to discuss what the most likely scenario is with regard to the intergenerational transfer of the species on which we depend as well as what the hoped for scenario might look like. Sign up here for the meeting link.

The Night before Fabmas

The Night before Fabmas

A Christmas Poem, by The FAB [F-elix (Breden), A-rne (Mooers), B-ernie (Crespi)]. Evolutionary Biology lab group at Simon Fraser University, as communicated by Bernie

‘Twas the night before Fabmas, and all through the roomNot a creature was stirring, not even on ZoomThe stockings were hung by the laptop with care,In hopes that Sir Darwinus soon would be there;

The children were nestled all safe in their beds,While visions of booster-shots danced in their heads;And mom in her faceshield and I in my mask,Had just settled in for more research on vaxx,

When there on our screen there arose such a clatter,I sprang from my browser to see what’s the matter.Away from my Windows I dove like a flash,VP-ed the network, deleted the cache.

DNA on the screen of the downloaded dataGave the lustre of breakthrough to omicron beta   When, what to my wondering eyes should regeagle,But an HMS ship, and eight tiny reinbeagle

With a little old captain, so live and amok,I knew in a moment it must be Sir ChuckMore rapid than twitter his coursers they came,And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

“Now, HUXLEY! now, HOOKER! now, HENSLOW ERASMAGE!On, LYELL! on FITZROY! on, OWEN and BABBAGE!To the top of the tree! To the true adaptations!Evolve away! volve away! Change all our nations!”

As viruses that before epidemes fly,When they meet with an obstacle, R-zo to the sky,So up to the case-top the coursers they flew,With a laptop of models, and Darwinus too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roofThe barking and yelping of reinbeagle woof.As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,When right down my router Chuck came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,And his clothes were all tarnished with virus kaput;A bundle of data he had on his back,And he looked full immune from all viral attack.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,And solved all our problems of virus berserkAnd laying his finger aside of his nose,And giving a nod, up the datstream he rose;

Sprang to his reinbeagles, to his team gave a whistle,And away they all flew like they’re nuclear fissile,                       

 But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he beamed out of sight,HAPPY FABMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD-NIGHT!

Return of the worms we are missing

Return of the worms we are missing

A lovely article in the December, 2021 issue of The Scientist by Catherine Offord–“Return of the Worms,” provides a much needed comprehensive review of new research about the mechanisms and efficacy of using worms to control inflammatory diseases. They work! For some patients with some diseases, but placebo responses make proving it difficult. Especially exciting is work on specific mechanisms. Certain worms secrete over 300 proteins into the gut. Mimics of one of them, ES-62, are being developed as possible anti-inflammatory drugs.

This would be a great article for evolutionary medicine courses.

Illustration from “Return of the Worms” by Catherine Offord, in the December, 2021 Issue of The Scientist.