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

ClubEvMed for June

ClubEvMed for June

Club EvMed: Why is human childbirth so difficult? Obstetrics and the evolution of labor

Friday, June 11th at 12pm EDT/18:00 CEST

Join us for a conversation with Philipp Mitteroecker and Barbara Fischer, both in the Department of Evolutionary Biology’s Unit for Theoretical Biology at the University of Vienna, Austria. The incidence of obstructed labor in humans is strikingly high, in the range of 3-6% worldwide, mostly resulting from the disproportion of the mother’s pelvic dimensions and the newborn’s head. Mortality and morbidity due to this disproportion imposes a strong – and partly persisting – selection pressure. Why has natural selection not led to a wider female birth canal and reduced obstructed labor?

We present a model that explains the high rate of obstructed labor by the specific properties of the selection scenario involved in human childbirth. Drawing from epidemiology and evolutionary quantitative genetics, the model allows for an estimation of the strength of selection on neonatal and maternal dimensions. We show how moderate directional selection suffices to account for the high rates of cephalopelvic disproportion and discuss why selection is unable to reduce these rates. Furthermore, the model predicts a considerable evolutionary response of pelvic and/or neonatal dimensions resulting from the regular use of Caesarean sections, and it also explains the intergenerational “inheritance” of Caesarean delivery. We also show how environmental, economic, and demographic transitions contribute to the global rates of Caesarean section. This illustrates the importance of evolutionary theory to understand biosocial and epidemiological change in modern societies.

Attendees are encouraged to read Pavličev et al. 2020, “Evolution of the human pelvis and obstructed labor: New explanations of an old obstetrical dilemma” and Fischer et al. 2021, “Sex differences in the pelvis did not evolve de novo in modern humans.” 

Sign up here for the meeting link:

Club EvMed: Evolution management from a game-theory perspective: can superbugs be forever tamed?

Monday, June 21st at 12pm EDT/18:00 CEST

When people “treat” a biological population, e.g., when a doctor prescribes an antibiotic, a farmer sprays an herbicide, or a homeowner mows their lawn, they create a selective pressure favoring organisms that can better survive and/or recover from treatment. It might therefore seem that rising resistance to treatment is inevitable. In this week’s conversation, Duke economics professor David McAdams will discuss why this is not necessarily the case—how the traditional logic of rising resistance hinges on an assumption of ignorance about the biological population. If the “evolution manager” has multiple treatment options and can observe the state of the population before deciding which treatment to prescribe, e.g., by conducting a rapid resistance diagnostic of an infecting pathogen or visually inspecting an unruly lawn, their subsequent informed treatment may then shape the fitness landscape in ways that serve human needs and, indeed, enhance the population’s future treatability. But there are important limitations, as the population may be impacted by the choices of other evolution managers (creating a “game” among managers) and some strategies with the potential to select against resistant organisms may only be feasible when resistance is sufficiently rare.

Attendees are encouraged to read McAdams et al. 2019, “Resistance diagnostics as a public health tool to combat antibiotic resistance: A model-based evaluation” and McAdams 2017, “Resistance diagnosis and the changing epidemiology of antibiotic resistance.” 

Sign up here for the meeting link:

Frank Rühli named Dean at U. Zurich Medical School

Frank Rühli named Dean at U. Zurich Medical School

Frank Rühli, Prof. Dr. Dr. med., EMBA, has just been named Dean of the University of Zurich Medical School. He is the Founding Director of the Institute of Evolutionary Medicine, at the University of Zurich where he is a Full Professor of Evolutionary Medicine and Head of the Paleopathology and Mummy Studies Group. He will begin as President of the International Society for Evolution, Medicine and Public Health in July, 2021.

Many who have worked to bring an evolutionary foundation to medical research and education have thought the project would have to wait until current students became Deans. But now that one leading medical school has seen the opportunity, others will certainly follow.