ClubEvMed: September 9 and 21

ClubEvMed: September 9 and 21

**NEW DATE!** Alzheimer’s Disease: a case of evolutionary mismatch?

Thursday, September 9th at 12pm EDT/18:00 CEST

headshot of Molly Fox

Join us for a conversation with Molly Fox, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA. Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a devastating, neurodegenerative disorder that emerges after age 65, afflicting ~20% of women and ~10% of men. A clear, singular cause of AD remains elusive; rather, it is thought to be the result of a complex interplay between physiological, genetic, and environmental risk factors and vulnerabilities. Several risk factors and prodromal phenotypes associated with AD were likely absent or at far lower frequency for the vast majority of human evolutionary history, suggesting the possibility that AD may be a case of “evolutionary mismatch.” My research in this area focuses on two domains of human life that have changed profoundly in recent history: female reproductive life-history patterns and microbial exposures. In this context, I explore how immune function and endocrinology act as key mediators of the journey from risk factors to pathogenesis. I argue that it is particularly important to examine AD risk and etiology in women, because post-menopausal women have opportunity to engage in activities that promote inclusive fitness, and those suffering from AD would not only miss out on these opportunities, but may even be burdensome to younger kin in ways that undermine inclusive fitness. Women are more likely to develop AD than age-matched men, and AD is associated with distinct biomarkers among women and men, justifying the need to investigate female-specific etiologies.

Attendees are encouraged to read Fox et al. 2019, “Alzheimer’s disease and symbiotic microbiota: an evolutionary medicine perspective,” Fox 2018 “’Evolutionary medicine’ perspectives on Alzheimer’s Disease: Review and new directions,” and Fox et al. 2018, “Women’s pregnancy life history and Alzheimer’s risk: Can immunoregulation explain the link?” 

Sign up here for the meeting link.


The durability of immunity against reinfection by SARS-CoV-2: a comparative evolutionary study

Tuesday, September 21st at 12pm EDT/18:00 CEST

This conversation will be led by Jeffrey Townsend, Elihu Professor of Biostatistics and Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale University. Full details to be announced soon, but you can register in advance here.

EMPH Emphasis: Williams Prize, 48 Clinical Briefs, and higher impact factor

EMPH Emphasis: Williams Prize, 48 Clinical Briefs, and higher impact factor

Evolution Medicine and Public Health has now published 48 Clinical Briefs, now all conveniently listed together for easy access. Each one provides a single page about how an evolutionary view illuminates a clinical condition.

Renee Hagen

The best article in the journal each year receives the $5000 Williams Prize. This year’s prize is for an article by Renee Hagen and Brooke Scelza “Adoption of outgroup norms provides evidence for social transmission in perinatal care practices among rural Namibian women” 

Submit your article now!

EMPH is an open access journal published by Oxford University Press that is edited by Charles Nunn. Under his editorship the journal impact factor has just increased to 5.425.

Club EvMed June 29

Club EvMed: Of Mice and Elephants: Trade-Offs of Tumor Suppressor Duplication and Body Size Evolution in Afrotheria

Tuesday, June 29th at 12pm EDT/18:00 CEST

Join us for a conversation with Juan Manuel Vazquez, Postdoctoral Scholar at the University of California-Berkeley. Peto’s Paradox describes the observation that while cancer risk is correlated with body size and lifespan within species, no such correlation holds between species. This indicates that large, long-lived species have evolved enhanced cancer protection mechanisms, and that these mechanisms may be used to treat and even prevent human cancers, and extend the human healthspan. The recent expansion of body size in elephants relative to other members of their resident clade of Afrotheria led us to explore how both body size and lifespan evolved in this group. Unexpectedly, we found that tumor suppressor duplication was pervasive in Afrotherian genomes, rather than restricted to Proboscideans. Proboscideans, however, have duplicates in unique pathways that may underlie some aspects of their remarkable anti-cancer cell biology. These data suggest that duplication of tumor suppressor genes facilitated the evolution of increased body size by compensating for decreasing intrinsic cancer risk. In our talk, we will begin with a summary of these findings, then move on to a discussion of the implications of tumor suppressor duplicates in the development and fitness of various animals, and of a new paradox: how can an organism’s body size expand given enhanced genetic shackles on growth?

Attendees are encouraged to read Vazquez and Lynch 2021, “Pervasive duplication of tumor suppressors in Afrotherians during the evolution of large bodies and reduced cancer risk” and García-Cao et al. 2002, “‘Super p53’ mice exhibit enhanced DNA damage response, are tumor resistant and age normally.” Sign up here for the meeting link:

ISEMPH July 14-16, 2021 Across the World Online

ISEMPH July 14-16, 2021 Across the World Online

The abstracts for over 170 presentations are now available in this searchable sortable database.

We will miss seeing each other in person this year, but having ISEMPH 2021 online July 14-16 makes it possible for friends and colleagues from around the world to participate at nominal expense. Plenary speakers and interactive activities will be live, all other talks will be pre-recorded and available via our website on our YouTube channel, followed by moderated discussions with Q&A. 

There is still time to join one of the Grand Challenges groups that will meet prior to the conference, but act fast.

Register now if you have not already.

Confirmed plenary speakers (see more about the program here)

The ISEMPH program committee for 2021 includes Joe Alcock, Nicole Bender, Michelle Blyth, Sylvia Cremer, Bernie Crespi, Isabel Gordo, Joe Graves, Michael Hochberg (Co-Chair), Jay Labov, Michael Muehlenbein (Chair), Alejandra Nuñez De La Mora, Gillian Pepper, and Frank Rühli. 

Please send questions and suggestions about the meeting to or

The Price of Optimism

The Price of Optimism

Gassen, J., Nowak, T. J., Henderson, A. D., Weaver, S. P., Baker, E. J., & Muehlenbein, M. P. (2021). Unrealistic Optimism and Risk for COVID-19 Disease. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 647461.

Risk perception and consequently engagement in behaviors to avoid illness often do not match actual risk of infection, morbidity, and mortality. Unrealistic optimism occurs when individuals falsely believe that their personal outcomes will be more favorable than others’ in the same risk category. Natural selection could favor overconfidence if its benefits, such as psychological resilience, outweigh its costs. However, just because optimism biases may have offered fitness advantages in our evolutionary past does not mean that they are always optimal. The current project examined relationships among personal risk for severe COVID-19, risk perceptions, and preventative behaviors. We predicted that those with higher risk of severe COVID-19 would exhibit unrealistic optimism and behave in ways inconsistent with their elevated risk of morbidity and mortality. See link for full article