Teaching the Relevance of Evolution to Understanding Immune Recognition

Last month, I completed teaching a graduate course for the tenth time.  After several years (in the early 1990’s) of thinking about launching a new alternate-year seminar course and then planning it, I began teaching PATH 480 in the fall of 1994.  The original name of the course, maintained through the first seven times I taught it, was: “Immunology, Evolution and Logic.”  Beginning in 2009, another faculty member, Derek Abbott, joined me in teaching the course, and the title was revised to: “Logical Dissection of Biomedical Investigations.”  In my portion of the course, I retained an emphasis on the relevance of logic and evolutionary principles to thinking about immune recognition and immune functioning more generally.  I focused class sessions on concepts and underlying assumptions critical to experimental investigations as well as on experimental design and data interpretation in articles reporting studies pertaining to immune recognition. Dr. Abbott has focused his portion of the course on the practical cognitive skills involved in reviewing papers and grant proposals pertaining primarily to innate immune signaling. (more…)

A new textbook: Principles of evolutionary medicine

Principles of evolutionary medicine

by Peter Gluckman, Alan Beedle and Mark Hanson

The evolutionary medicine community has long emphasized the need to teach evolution in relation to medicine to medical students. In their efforts to bring evolution into medical schools, advocates of evolutionary medicine encountered various obstacles. These ranged from the unwillingness of school deans to commit ‘precious’ curriculum time to a new, uninstitutionalized subject, to a general lack of appreciation, within the medical community , of contribution that the knowledge of evolution may make to medicine. One obstacle that received less attention was the lack of an appropriate textbook. The field of evolutionary medicine by no means lacks good book-length studies-starting with Randolph Nesse’s and George C. William’s now classic Why we get sick or the more recent Evolution in health and disease, edited by Stephen C. Stearns and Jacob C. Koella-but none was written with medical students, who will know something about human disease but in most cases very little about evolution, as target audience in mind.

This gap should be filled by the new textbook by Peter Gluckman, Alan Beedle and Mark Hanson, Principles of evolutionary medicine, published this month by the Oxford University Press. The aim of the book is to cover the basics of evolutionary biology and then explain how human disease could be understood from an evolutionary viewpoint. The book is divided as follows:

Part 1. Fundamentals of evolutionary biology

Chapter 1. Introduction

Chapter 2. Evolutionary theory

Chapter 3. The molecular basis of variation and inheritance

Chapter 4. Evolution and development

Chapter 5. Evolution of life histories

Chapter 6. Human evolution and the origins of human diversity

Part 2. Understanding human disease from an evolutionary perspective

Chapter 7. Reproduction

Chapter 8. Nutrition and metabolic adaptation

Chapter 9. Defence

Chapter  10. Social organization and behaviour

Part 3. An evolutionary framework for health and disease

Chapter 11. Evolutionary principles applied to medical practice

Coda. Evolutionary medicine and society

A more detailed description of the content is available on the book website: http://evomedicine.org/.

It is hoped that the book will be taken up by those teaching evolutionary medicine, and that it will provide a helpful argument to those who are trying to persuade medical schools to introduce a new course.