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 ( 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.