New book by Randy Nesse

New book by Randy Nesse

Good Reasons for Bad Feelings: Insights from the Frontier of Evolutionary Psychiatry was published on Darwin Day by Dutton (Penguin Random House)

Book Website  Full Information Advance Praise Reviews TOC Buy on Amazon

About the book

Slow progress in finding causes and cures has inspired a growing chorus of calls for new approaches to mental disorders. GOOD REASONS FOR BAD FEELINGS asks a fundamentally new question. Instead of asking why some people get sick, it instead asks why natural selection left all of us so vulnerable to mental illness. The limits of natural selection offer one kind of answer, but several others are equally important. Our environments are vastly different from those we evolved in, making us vulnerable to addiction and eating disorders. Bad feelings like anxiety and low mood are, like pain and cough, useful in certain situations, but they often help our genes, not us, and, like smoke detectors, they are prone to false alarms. Social anxiety is nearly universal because our ancestors who cared what others thought about them did better than other people. Guilt makes morality possible, and grief is the nearly unbearable price of love. Recognizing the evolutionary origins of such symptoms helps to distinguish them from diseases. Trying to understand an emotion requires understanding individuals as individuals.

Topics discussed in the book include:

  • How emotions were shaped to benefit our genes, not our health or happiness: Jealousy increases fitness, even as it wrecks lives; it hurts to hear babies cry, so parents tend to them; sexual feelings get many people to do things good for their genes but disastrous for them.
  • How the smoke detector principle explains useless anxiety: should you run if you hear a noise behind a hill that could be a lion? The cost of running is likely to be small compared to the cost of not running if a lion is really there, so false alarms are normal and necessary.
  • The price we pay for deep, meaningful relationships: Grief and guilt are the price of love and goodness. They exist because we have been domesticated over thousands of years by individuals choosing partners and friends who are honest, trustworthy, kind and generous; worry about what others think of us and the pain of loss are the price of deep relationships.
  • Why addiction is an unavoidable consequence of our ability to learn: We adapt our behavior as a function of our experiences, doing whatever works. Drugs our ancestors never encountered hijack the system, turning some people into zombies.
  • Why sexual problems are common: Sexual systems evolved to benefit our genes, at big costs to us.
  • Why eating disorders are common: Many studies ask why certain individuals are prone to eating disorders but Nesse asks a different question: how do mechanisms that evolved to cope with famine generate uncontrolled eating in modern environments?
  • Why genes for schizophrenia and autism persist: Some are mutations, but others keep a system close to a fitness peak, despite the risk of catastrophic mental failure.
  • Why it is usually safe to relieve emotional pain, even when it is normal: Sometimes painful emotions help us, but usually they are excessive or useless. An evolutionary perspective encourages respect for our emotions, but also determined efforts to find new strategies for prevention and treatment.
  • How an evolutionary foundation can help put psychiatry on the same biological foundation as the rest of medicine: Evolution is a basic science for medicine. GOOD REASONS FOR BAD FEELINGS shows how it offers a way forward in our quest to understand, prevent and treat mental illness.

About the Author

Randolph M. Nesse, MD is a founder of the field of evolutionary medicine and coauthor with George C. Williams of Why We Get Sick. He served for many years as Professor of Psychiatry, Professor of Psychology, and Research Professor at the University of Michigan. He currently is the Founding Director of the Center for Evolution and Medicine at Arizona State University, where he is also a Foundation Professor in the School of Life Sciences. He is a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science, a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, and an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Medicine just published

Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Medicine just published

Edited by Martin Brüne and Wulf Schiefenhövel

TOC here Order here

Medicine is grounded in the natural sciences, among which biology stands out with regard to the understanding of human physiology and conditions that cause dysfunction. Ironically though, evolutionary biology is a relatively disregarded field. One reason for this omission is that evolution is deemed a slow process. Indeed, macroanatomical features of our species have changed very little in the last 300,000 years. A more detailed look, however, reveals that novel ecological contingencies, partly in relation to cultural evolution, have brought about subtle changes pertaining to metabolism and immunology, including adaptations to dietary innovations, as well as adaptations to the exposure to novel pathogens. Rapid pathogen evolution and evolution of cancer cells cause major problems for the immune system to find adequate responses. In addition, many adaptations to past ecologies have turned into risk factors for somatic disease and psychological disorder in our modern worlds (i.e. mismatch), among which epidemics of autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and obesity, as well as several forms of cancer stand out. In addition, depression, anxiety and other psychiatric conditions add to the list. 

The Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Medicine is a compilation of cutting edge insights into the evolutionary history of ourselves as a species, and how and why our evolved design may convey vulnerability to disease. Written in a classic textbook style emphasising physiology and pathophysiology of all major organ systems, the Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Medicine will be valuable for students as well as scholars in the fields of medicine, biology, anthropology and psychology. It has  a clear structure which makes this volume easily accessible for students and scholars. Also it has over 130 colour images; this book illustrates beautifully the topic of Evolutionary Medicine. With chapters divided into ‘General topics’ and ‘Specific Organ Systems’, readers are able to understand both the relevant evolutionary background information and the application to physiological systems.

Graduate training in Germany

Graduate training in Germany

Education and Research Opportunities in Evolutionary Medicine

University of Münster, Germany

Master level:Evolutionary medicine can be studied as part of the 2-year Master of Science (MSc) study programmes ‘Biosciences’, ‘Biotechnology’ and ‘Biomedicine’, all within the Faculty of Biology (https://www.uni-muenster.de/Biologie/en/). Within these study programmes, teaching modules and the topic of the Master thesis can be chosen from a large range of offers, such that several 1-month advanced modules, up to two 2-month specialisation modules and the Master thesis (based on a research project of up to 1-year length) can be done on topics in the field of evolutionary medicine. In particular, within these MSc study programmes, the following module offers an introduction to the field of evolutionary medicine:

Advanced Module “Evolutionary Medicine”: The 1-month interdisciplinary block course “Evolutionary Medicine” aims to train MSc students in the application of evolutionary principles to the understanding of health and disease. Topics include, e.g., the evolution of resistance of bacteria, evolution of disease-relevant genes, genome-wide association studies or the evolution of transposable elements. The course comprises both lectures as well as hands-on practical work in the lab.

More info: https://www.uni-muenster.de/Evolution/mgse/teaching/evolutionarymedicine.html

Research Module “Evolutionary Medicine”

PhD level:

The University of Münster offers a wide range of research opportunities for PhD students in the field of Evolutionary Medicine. Research work to obtain a PhD degree (Dr. rer. nat.) from the Faculty of Biology can be done in one of the labs of the Faculty of Biology or the Faculty of Medicine, including the University Hospital Münster (UKM).

The following graduate programmes provide specialised training on topics related to evolutionary medicine:

Research Training Group “Evolutionary Processes in Adaptation in Disease (EvoPAD)”

The Research Training Group Evolutionary Processes in Adaptation and Disease (EvoPAD) is a structured programme for doctoral students funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). EvoPAD unites biological, medical, and philosophical research with the core idea to use the theory of evolution to understand processes leading to adaptation and/or disease. The programme focusses on three core research areas: (A) Evolutionary processes in infectious diseases, (B) Plasticity of genomes and phenotypes and its relevance for health and disease, and (C) Philosophy of evolution and disease.

More info: https://www.uni-muenster.de/EvoPAD/index.html

Münster Graduate School of Evolution

The Münster Graduate School of Evolution (MGSE) is an institutionalized, interdisciplinary association of researchers at the University of Münster, bridging the faculties of geosciences, biology, medicine, mathematics, and philosophy. The MGSE provides an interdisciplinary network of excellent scientists working on diverse topics in evolution and a study programme for doctoral students of the different faculties in the general field of evolution. The programme, as well as a specific mentoring system ensure interdisciplinary networking. The doctoral students of the MGSE address a broad range of questions, from the evolution of earth to the evolution of evolutionary theory.

More info: https://www.uni-muenster.de/Evolution/mgse/about/index.html

Graduate training in Evolutionary Medicine – Kiel, Germany

Master of Science in Molecular Biology and Evolution (MAMBE)

The Master of Science in Molecular Biology and Evolution (MAMBE) is an international program, taught entirely in English, and it is based on the fruitful collaboration between Kiel University and the Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön. Together with further collaborations (with the Leibniz Science Campus EvoLUNG (Evolutionary Medicine of the Lung), and also the Collaborative Research Centre 1182, Origin and Function of Metaorganisms), it specifically combines the areas of evolution and molecular biology – a combination which has emerged as an extremely successful interdisciplinary research field in recent years but has not yet been available in academic education.

The MAMBE curriculum is founded on the idea that interdisciplinary thinking enhances in-depth understanding of biological phenomena and also applied medical problems (e.g., Evolutionary Medicine). For example, the complexity that are characteristic for many molecular processes, including those underlying human disease, can often only be understood by taking into account their evolutionary origin. Similarly, the evolution of particular traits, including those underlying virulence or antibiotic resistance of human pathogens, may also often depend on the underlying molecular mechanisms.

MAMBE will foster such interdisciplinary connections. In the first two semesters, students will learn about the basic mechanisms and processes of molecules and evolution. Additionally, they will enhance their skill set in scientific communication and management (e.g., preparation of seminar talks, or writing of grant applications, etc). During the third semester, the acquired competences will be applied to real research life in the laboratory and field. The fourth semester will consist of the Master thesis.

Master of Science in Medical Life Sciences (MedLife)

The Master of Science in Medical Life Sciences is hosted by the Medical Faculty of Kiel University, coordinated by the Institute for Clinical Molecular Biology (IKMB). Translational medical research “from bench to bedside” is one of the fastest growing fields, the demand for experts is growing more rapidly than can be currently met. Scientific results gained in cell biology, genetics, microbiology, molecular biology, biochemistry, and also evolutionary biology need to be translated into medical applications before they can be utilized for the benefit of people, e.g. in disease prevention and therapy.

The curriculum has four focus areas: Evolutionary Medicine, inflammation, oncology, and longevity. The focus area on evolutionary medicine looks at the dynamic interrelations between environmental factors and the human genetic make-up that influence the development of and susceptibility to diseases. Why do we suffer from chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or obesity? Why are certain genetic variants maintained within populations despite their disease risk? Why do pathogens evolve drug resistance and can we take measures against it? Evolutionary medicine aims to bridge the gap between evolutionary biology and medicine. It focuses not only on a mechanistic understanding of medical conditions, but also considers their evolutionary origins to ultimately help improve innovative research in biomedicine.

Graduate programs:

International Max-Planck Research School for Evolutionary Biology (IMPRS Evolbio)

Max-Planck Insitute for Evolutionary Biology, Ploen; Kiel University, Kiel; Geomar Helmholtz-Center for Ocean Research, Kiel.

The International Max-Planck Research School for Evolutionary Biology (IMPRS Evolbio) is an international graduate school dedicated to highest level research and training in all areas of contemporary Evolutionary Biology, including connections to applied fields such as Evolutionary Medicine. The graduate school is embedded in the thriving research environment of Northern Germany. Since 2010, the IMPRS for Evolutionary Biology has been operated by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, the  Kiel University and the GEOMAR – Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research.

Graduate education is based on individual doctoral research projects and also a training program. The latter includes mentoring by a thesis advisory committee (TAC) as well as an individually coordinated curriculum of regular lab and soft skill courses, workshops or seminars. The training is supplemented by scientific presentations at our annual IMPRS retreat or by attending conferences.
The doctoral thesis and its funding by the IMPRS is designed for three years. English is the official language within our graduate school, German beginner courses are offered for foreign students.

Leibniz Science Campus Evolutionary Medicine of the Lung (EvoLUNG)

Forschungszentrum Borstel, Borstel; Kiel University, Kiel; Max-Planck Insitute for Evolutionary Biology, Ploen

The Leibniz Science Campus Evolutionary Medicine of the Lung (EvoLUNG) integrates evolutionary theory with lung research to achieve a better understanding of chronic lung diseases such as tuberculosis, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The campus focuses on three main research topics, including: (1) the spread and evolution of multi-drug resistant pathogens of the lung, (2) the evolutionary origin and possible benefits of disease genes, and (3) the interplay between four key players: disease susceptibility genes, microbiota, pathogens, and abiotic environmental stressors.

The Obesity-Inflammation Connection Explained

The Obesity-Inflammation Connection Explained

West-Eberhard, M. J. (2018). Nutrition, the visceral immune system, and the evolutionary origins of pathogenic obesity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201809046. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1809046116

The long-awaited article on the evolution of obesity and its interactions with the immune system has just been published in PNAS, open access. This may offer a key to the pathogenic effects of obesity via inflammation.

Abstract: The global obesity epidemic is the subject of an immense, diversely specialized research effort. An evolutionary analysis reveals connections among disparate findings, starting with two well-documented
facts: Obesity-associated illnesses (e.g., type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease), are especially common in: (i) adults with abdominal obesity, especially enlargement of visceral adipose tissue (VAT), a tissue with important immune functions; and (ii) individuals with poor fetal nutrition whose nutritional input increases later in life. I hypothesize that selection favored the evolution of increased lifelong investment in VAT in individuals likely to suffer lifelong malnutrition because of its importance in fighting intraabdominal infections. Then, when increased nutrition violates the adaptive fetal prediction of lifelong nutritional deficit, preferential VAT investment could contribute to abdominal obesity and chronic inflammatory disease. VAT prioritization may help explain several patterns of nutrition-related disease: the paradoxical increase of chronic disease with increased food availability in recently urbanized and migrant populations; correlations between poor fetal nutrition, improved childhood (catch-up) growth, and adult metabolic syndrome; and survival differences between children with marasmus and kwashiorkor malnutrition. Fats and sugars can aggravate chronic inflammation via effects on intestinal bacteria regulating gut permeability to visceral pathogens. The extremes in a nutrition-sensitive trade-off between visceral (immune-function) vs. subcutaneous (body shape) adiposity may have been favored by selection in highly stratified premedicine societies. Altered adipose allocation in populations with long histories of social stratification and malnutrition may be the result of genetic accommodation of developmental responses
to poor maternal/fetal conditions, increasing their vulnerability to inflammatory disease.

Mismatch Talks at Michigan

Mismatch Talks at Michigan

The University of Michigan Evolution and Human Adaptation Program has a fine series of talks coming up. Thursdays 1:30-3:00 in East Hall on the Ann Arbor campus. See this link for details.


Feb 14th  Beverly Strassman (Michigan)
Feb 21st   Marco Del Giudice (New Mexico)
Feb 28th   Alyssa Crittenden (UNLV)
Mar 14th  William Parker (Duke)
Mar 21st   Shinobu Kitayama (Michigan)
Mar 28th   Stephen Colarelli (Central Michigan)
Apr 4th     Charles Nunn (Duke)
Apr 11th   Bruce Robertson (Bard)
Apr 18th   Douglas Kenrick (ASU)

Share your creations on EvMedEd

Share your creations on EvMedEd

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