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

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.

Omenn Prize Awarded

Omenn Prize Awarded

The International Society for Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health has awarded the $5000 Omenn prize for the best article on a topic related to evolution, medicine, and public health published in the past year to Chelsea J. Weibel (photo above), Jenny Tung, Susan C. Alberts, and Elizabeth A. Archie for “Accelerated reproduction is not an adaptive response to early-life adversity in wild baboons” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Oct 2020, 117 (40) 24909-24919. 

The Committee also recognized three additional papers for honorable mention.

  • Morley, V. J., Kinnear, C. L., Sim, D. G., Olson, S. N., Jackson, L. M., Hansen, E., Usher, G. A., Showalter, S. A., Pai, M. P., Woods, R. J., & Read, A. F. (2020) An adjunctive therapy administered with an antibiotic prevents enrichment of antibiotic-resistant clones of a colonizing opportunistic pathogen. eLife, 9, e58147.
  • Crespi, B. (2020). Evolutionary medical insights into the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health, 2020(1), 314-322.
  • Dieltjens, L., Appermans, K., Lissens, M., Lories, B., Kim, W., Van der Eycken, E. V., Foster, K. R., & Steenackers, H. P. (2020). Inhibiting bacterial cooperation is an evolutionarily robust anti-biofilm strategy. Nature Communications, 11(1), 107.

ISEMPH thanks this year’s prize committee Caleb Finch (chair), Martin Brüne, Joe Graves, Jochim Kurtz, Chris Kuzawa, Anne Stone, and Carol Worthman and sponsor Gilbert Omenn for making this prize possible.

Omenn Prize: $5000 for best EvMed article

The $5000 Gilbert S. Omenn Prize is awarded by the International Society for Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health for the best article published in the previous calendar year on a topic related to evolution in the context of medicine and public health.  Nominations for articles published in 2020, including self-nominations, are welcome until April 30, 2021. Caleb Finch chairs the prize jury.

Full information here:

Link for submission here:

The International Society for Evolution, Medicine & Public Health invites
nominations for the Omenn Prize of $5000 for the best article published in
the previous calendar year in any scientific journal on a topic related to
evolution in the context of medicine and public health.

The prize, provided by the generosity of Gilbert S. Omenn, will be awarded
to the first author of the winning article. The Committee, chaired this
year by Caleb Finch, may elect to recognize more than one article. Authors
are encouraged to nominate their own articles, but nominations of articles
by others are also welcome.Directions for NominationsPlease submit your
nomination using this brief form. The form requests a reference for the
nominated article, along with a brief statement in support of your

Peer-reviewed articles with a publication date of 2020 that use
evolutionary principles to advance understanding of a disease or disease
process are eligible.  The prize committee will give priority to articles
with implications for human health, but many basic science or theoretical
articles have such implications.

The prize is made possible by a generous donation by Gilbert Omenn, M.D.,
PhD. Director of the Center for Computational Medicine and Bioinformatics
at the University of Michigan where he is a Professor of Internal Medicine,
Human Genetics, and Public Health. Dr. Omenn served as Executive Vice
President for Medical Affairs as Chief Executive Officer of the University
of Michigan Health System from 1997-2002. He is a past president of the
American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the
Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

ClubEvMed for June

Club EvMed: Four in April! Sign up now.

And don’t miss the last one in March: Harnessing the social lives of microbes to improve human health, Thursday, March 25th at 12pm EDT/17:00 CET

See the website at for full details

The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West became psychologically peculiar and particularly prosperous

Thursday, April 1st at 12pm EDT/18:00 CEST

cover of Joseph Henrich's book, The Weirdest People in the World

Join us for a conversation with Joe Henrich, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University. Over the last few decades, a growing body of research has revealed not only substantial global variation along several important psychological dimensions, but also that people from societies that are Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic (WEIRD) are particularly unusual, often anchoring the ends of global psychological distributions. To explain these patterns, I’ll first show how the most fundamental human institutions—those governing marriage and the family—influence our motivations, perceptions, intuitions and emotions. Then, to explain the peculiar trajectory of European societies over the last two millennium, I lay out how one particular branch of Christianity systematically dismantled the intensive kin-based institutions in much of Latin Christendom, thereby altering people’s psychology and opening the door to the proliferation of new institutional forms, including voluntary associations (charter towns, universities and guilds), impersonal markets, individualistic religions and representative governments. In light of these findings, I close by arguing that the anthropological, psychological and economic sciences should transform into a unified evolutionary approach that considers not only how human nature influences our behavior and societies but also how the resulting institutions, technologies and languages subsequently shape our minds.

After the talk, perspectives on how the research applies in a clinical setting will be presented by physician Neal Baer, Lecturer on Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard. Attendees are encouraged to read Schulz et al. 2019, “The Church, intensive kinship, and global psychological variation.” Sign up here for the meeting link.

Causes and consequences of fear of childbirth

Monday, April 5th at 12pm EDT/18:00 CEST

Zaneta Thayer headshot

Join us for a conversation with Zaneta Thayer, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Dartmouth College. Childbirth is an essential component of reproduction. And yet, many individuals experience fear of childbirth (FOC), defined as anxiety about birth that impairs an individual’s daily functioning and wellbeing. Mild to moderate FOC has been previously described as a potential adaptation for humans to seek assistance during labor and delivery. However, FOC exists on a spectrum, and individuals with high FOC are known to be more likely to request cesarean and other forms of medical intervention in order to avoid pain and maintain a sense of control. In this talk, I will expand on what is known about the causes of FOC, as well as presently underappreciated impacts of FOC on maternal and child health across the perinatal period. Using data collected from pregnant persons living in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic, I will discuss how pandemic-related restrictions on birth environments have amplified FOC and associations between FOC and gestation length, postpartum depression, and breastfeeding outcomes. This work suggests that promoting prenatal care and birth environments that facilitate patient-provider trust, continuous labor support, and maternal self-efficacy could reduce FOC. Sign up here for the meeting link.

Die young, live fast: is accelerated reproduction an adaptive response to early life adversity in wild baboons?

Wednesday, April 21st at 12pm EDT/18:00 CEST

a picture of a baboon with its young

Join us for a conversation with Elizabeth Archie, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame, and Chelsea Weibel, PhD Student at the University of Notre Dame. If an individual can anticipate an early death, should they also “live fast”? Fast reproduction is often proposed to be an adaptive response to harsh conditions in early life because early adversity predicts shorter lifespans. Individuals who speed up reproduction after experiencing early adversity might therefore have higher fitness than those who do not. Using long-term data on natural population of baboons in Amboseli, Kenya, we tested if fast reproduction offers lifetime fitness advantages to females. Contrary to several influential hypotheses, females who experienced early adversity did not improve their fitness if they sped up reproduction. Our results raise doubts that accelerated reproduction is an adaptive response to early adversity in long lived, slow-reproducing species. Sign up here for the meeting link.

Postdoc Spotlight

Thursday, April 29th at 12pm EDT/18:00 CEST

We are accepting nominations through Wednesday, March 31st. If you would like to nominate yourself or someone else to present a 12-minute talk at Club EvMed, please fill out this form.