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Ashley Snyder presents this commentary on the session “Frontiers in evolutionary medicine.”


Evolutionary medicine considers so many different fields of study. The presentations in “Frontiers of evolutionary medicine” represented work on the past, in the present, and for the future as they explored concepts relevant to the study of evolutionary medicine.

“Hemoglobin concentration and reproductive success of Tibetan highlanders” hypothesized the adaptive significance of Tibetan highlanders’ response to high-altitude hypoxia as it was found that the Tibetans have lower hemoglobin concentration. From interviewing Tibetan women who were in their post-reproductive years, they found that Tibetan women who had lower concentrations of hemoglobin had a greater likelihood of live birth and, thus, better reproductive success. Their refined hypothesis considers viability selection for this interesting trait. (Thank you to Cynthia Beall who stepped in to present!)

I am sure everyone at this conference understands the concept of mismatch, yet do we really understand how to use this term? In “Is it Time to Re-evaluate the Mismatch Concept?,” Michelle Freed explained how terms like mismatch should be carefully used when presenting research as simplistic explanations can be taken out of context. In addition, health issues like cardiovascular disease, reaction to helminths, and poor sleep patterns that indicate mismatch may need to be re-evaluated as further evidence shows new ideas as to when mismatch occurred.

“Eco-evolutionary dynamics and natural selection on health-related traits in humans,” presented by Emmanuel Milot, looked at a case of recent human evolution based on changing demography in Quebec. The study found that rapid evolution is possible and can modify demography and, thereby, selection on survival over time. In the last presentation of the session, “Cancer in an Indigenous Native South American Population: Initial insights into the natural history of cancer in traditional subsistence populations” looked at how cancer rates in elderly Tsimane were significantly lower than in the U.S. Hillard Kaplan, who is an author of this study and presented it at the conference, explained how the most prevalent cancers among the Tsimane were different than those in the U.S.

I very much enjoyed the presentations of this session. I liked the variety of studies and how individual cases and a more general approach were reviewed. I look forward to hearing more about where this research goes.