Microchimerism and maternal health

Special Lecture – Amy Boddy PhD

Amy Boddy PhD will be giving a special invited lecture for Joe Alcock’s evolutionary medicine class and the UNM community. Dr. Boddy studies evolutionary applications of human health and disease, using genomics, computational biology and evolutionary theory. Her recent work has focused on cooperation and conflict in pregnancy and cancer.  She will share her work on fetal microchimerism – the invasion of fetal cells into the maternal body – next Tuesday.

Date: Tuesday October 25th, Time: 5:30pm

Location: Main Campus, Castetter (Biology) room 107.

Title: Fetal microchimerism in pregnancy and maternal health

screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-10-23-53-am fetal_cell_mother_baby_anb8wo-1.png

Amy Boddy PhD is an Assistant Research Professor at the Biodesign Institute, Arizona State University. Dr. Boddy received a Ph.D in Molecular Biology & Genetics from Wayne State University, School of Medicine in 2013.

Dr. Boddy’s work on fetal microchimerism was covered by Carl Zimmer in the New York Times in September 2015. Zimmer writes of pregnant women:

“But male cells were present in every organ that the scientists studied: brains, hearts, kidneys and others.”

A Pregnancy Souvenir: Cells That Are Not Your Own. A video abstract describing her recent Bioessays review on fetal microchimerism and maternal health is here: Super Chimera.


  1. Boddy, Amy M., et al. “Fetal microchimerism and maternal health: A review and evolutionary analysis of cooperation and conflict beyond the womb.” Bioessays 37.10 (2015): 1106-1118.
  2. Haig D. Genetic Conflicts in Pregnancy. Quarterly Review of biology. Volume 68(4). Dec 1993, 495‐532.

The evolution of sleep

Why do we sleep? How much is enough? What happens when we don’t get enough. These questions will be the topic of next Tuesday’s October 18th Evolutionary Medicine class.

Sleep is one of the last frontiers in the study of lifestyle-related risk factors for chronic diseases. For instance, it has been well established that smoking reduces lifespan and increases the risk of chronic inflammatory diseases and cancer. Same goes for certain diets. The opposite is true for exercise. Now we can add disrupted sleep to the list of risk factors for chronic disease and shortened lifespan. Read Disruption of Circadian Clock Linked to Obesity, Diabetes and Heart Attacks. The question is, why?

Sleep via Jawbone

The sleep and activity tracker Jawbone (I have no financial interest in this company) released some data showing the ideal amount of sleep for a happy mood (above). This result, from a large sample makes it appear that sleep duration has a prominent effect on mood.

More about the Jawbone data here.

Work done here at the University of New Mexico by Gandhi Yetish PhD tried to answer the question: how much sleep are we evolved to need? He compared sleep in  modern industrialized populations in comparison to diverse hunter gatherer populations.

Read Yetish et al Current Biology 2015 here.

Other evolutionary work has centered on the uniquely human habit of nesting on comfortable beds, unlike other primates. We seem to prioritize sleep more than our closest relatives? Why?

Nunn, C. et al. 2016 Shining evolutionary light on human sleep and sleep disorders.

The discussion of sleep would be incomplete without the microbiome, of course. A landmark study showed that sleep deprivation, if long enough, is fatal. Death happens because microbes escape from the gut, causing abscesses and sepsis. Sleep seems to be important in preventing microbes gone amok.

Everson and Toth  Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 2000


Bacterial overgrowth after sleep deprivation (solid bars) in rats

Until recently, little evidence has linked sleep with gut microbiota in humans. One major finding was that gut microbiota have a circadian rhythm, with gene expression and population numbers that cycle in circadian fashion:. For example Lactobacillus populations expand and contract in the gut microbiome, depending on the time of day:

Thaiss et al. Transkingdom control of microbiota diurnal oscillations promotes metabolic homeostasis. Cell 2014. 159 (3) 514-529

This group showed that the gut microbiota follows a circadian rhythm, just like host cells. Moreover, they showed that healthy cycling microbiotas require a host that follows a normal circadian pattern of eating and sleep. When the mouse sleep and eating pattern is disrupted, their microbes lose their rhythm. When this “jet-lagged” microbiota is transplanted into germ free mice, the inoculated mice become fat and lose glucose control, that is, they exhibit a pre-diabetic state

The investigators also studied humans who suffered jet lag. Two subjects with 10-12 hour time change gave fecal samples before, during, and after resolution of jet lag. The samples were inoculated into germ free mice. Lo and behold, the mice receiving jet-lagged poop became obese and pre-diabetic, exhibiting glucose intolerance:

Jet lagged human microbiota causes metabolic changes

These findings mean that all our body’s activities, and those of our microbiota, have evolved to be on a timer. Mistimed sleep and eating has real consequences, increasing the risk of obesity, diabetes and many other diseases.


Sleep is a thread that is tightly woven in the fabric of metabolism, diet, activity level, inflammation, and obesity. Teasing out the cause and effect relationships between these features is a fascinating challenge for science and for evolutionary medicine.

Writing assignment for Tuesday: Why do we sleep? Use the readings to defend your answer.

EvolutionMedicine Podcast #10

I spoke last week to Melissa Franklin, who wrote “Nutrient signaling, evolutionary origins of the immune modulating effects of fat” with me and Chris Kuzawa. She now teaches evolutionary medicine at Central New Mexico Community College here in Albuquerque. We talk about nutrient signaling, diet, and teaching evolutionary medicine in this podcast.

I summarized our argument on nutrient signaling here at the Evolution and Medicine Review.


Gut pathogens are killed by the detergent effects of fatty acids, particularly Omega-3 FA. These differences may drive natural selection leading to the evolution of signaling by these fats.

We argued that the presence of some (mostly saturated) fats sets off an “early warning system” in the body. When fats and other nutrients that encourage bacterial growth are eaten, the body prepares for unwelcome microbial guests with inflammation. And while that immune response may help fend off harmful microbes in the short term, long term ingestion of such fats could contribute to chronic inflammatory diseases.



From Alcock and Lin F1000 Research 2015

We talked about Andrea Graham of Princeton who is doing excellent work on parasites and the evolution of autoimmunity, particularly the anti-ANA antibodies found in the disease lupus. Read more about her interesting research here.

The EvolutionMedicine podcast is now on iTunes. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and give us a review. Thanks!




Special Lecture – Katherine Amato

Tuesday October 11th, Katherine Amato PhD will be giving a special invited lecture for the evolutionary medicine class.

Location: Main Campus, Castetter 107. Time: 5:30pm

The topic of her talk:

Microbial variation and host plasticity: New perspectives on health and evolution in humans and non-human primates.


Dr. Amato is an exceptional scientist who is doing exciting work on the microbiome. She will share her recent findings with us next Tuesday.


Dr. Amato presenting at the International Society for Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health Meeting in Durham, NC this summer.

Katherine Amato is an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at Northwestern University. She studies the gut microbiota in the broad context of host ecology and evolution, using non-human primates as models for studying host-gut microbe interactions. Her accomplishments include experience as a Fulbright Fellow and a National Geographic Young Explorer in Mexico. Dr. Amato received a Ph.D in ecology, evolution and conservation biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2013. She was a presenter at TEDx Jackson Hole in 2014, and was recently selected to be an Azrieli Global Scholar for the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and serves as an associate editor for the journal, Microbiome.


  1. Variable responses of human and non-human primate gut microbiomes to a Western diet
  2. Microbiome science and medicine co-evolution in context the importance of studying gut microbiomes in wild animals




Extreme Environment Encephalopathy

The brain at its limits…


Ascending Cotopaxi

In this EvolutionMedicine ‘cast, Joe Alcock interviews Darryl Macias about how the brain fails us at high altitude and other dangers of the mountain environment. Darryl discusses his recent expedition to Shishapangma to retrieve the bodies of his climbing partners and friends Alex Lowe and David Bridges who died in an avalanche in 1999. We also talk about diving and gut microbes. Oh, and we also talk about zombies. (Students – this podcast is completely optional, please read the previous two posts.)


Evo Med Journal Club

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 1.10.17 PM

Portrait of Sara, Arms Akimbo. Artist: Monica Aissa Martinez

These recent publications relating to evolutionary medicine will be discussed on October 4th. (September 27th we are discussing the Paleo diets and Paleo delusions.)

Group A. Why do humans drink alcohol?

Carrigan et al. PNAS 2015 Hominids adapted to metabolize ethanol long before human-directed fermentation.

Group B. Why do elephants get less cancer than humans?

Abeggien et al. JAMA 2015 Potential Mechanisms for Cancer Resistance in Elephants and Comparative Cellular Response to DNA Damage in Humans

Group C. Why is physical activity associated with health?

Lieberman Current Sports Medicine 2015. Is Exercise Really Medicine Evolutionary Perspective

Group D.  Does early stress leave a lasting, maybe adaptive, impression on the body?

Gosling  Ann Hum Genetics 2015. Pacific Populations Metabolic Disease And Just So Stories


Grading rubric for journal club presentations is here:

1) What is the condition or disease described in the paper?

2) What is the proximate explanation for the disease (no more than a sentence or two)?

3) What are the evolutionary hypotheses to explain the condition? If there are multiple hypotheses, each student should present an individual idea.

4) Does the paper present any data? Are the ideas supported by evidence?

5) Does the logic of the paper make sense? Is it a flawed paper that whose conclusions are questionable?

6) Which hypothesis makes most sense to you? Would you recommend the paper for the next year’s class?

7) Additional points towards the grade will be given for presentation style. This includes good eye contact and understandable speech.

8) Individual contribution.

9) Answered questions concisely, in a way that increased understanding of concepts.

10) Asked good questions of other presentations.



Paleodiet or Paleodelusion?


It is thought that much human evolution occurred during the Pleistocene – 2.8 million to 12 thousand years ago. What are the consequences of genes optimized for a Pleistocene environment now expressed in the modern environment? We have new technology, petro-chemicals, artificial light, recreational drugs. In particular, we consume radically different food than our predecessors. Are we healthier if we eat like we did in the Pleistocene?


Pleistocene scene

This thinking has led to a Paleo lifestyle movement that advocates for a Paleo diet. This concept has become popular in part because it prioritizes eating meat and some high fat foods. But is this really the healthiest option, and the best evolutionary insight as to what we should be eating? What exactly is the Paleo diet, and how much should we worry about eating only foods that we were evolved to eat?


The Paleo diet raises additional questions. There is tremendous diversity in modern human diets, even among traditional human populations.  Which stone age populations should we emulate? Can we really know how our Pleistocene ancestors ate with any certainty? How far back should we go – 1,000 years, 10,000 years, 100,000 years -to pinpoint the healthiest evolved diet for humans? Can modern hunter-gatherers, like the Hadza of Tanzania be a stand-in for our ancestral hominins in terms of diet?

Hadza and honey

Hadza consuming honeycomb

[Students – check back this weekend for journal club assignments. You will be expected to present your journal club critiques on October 4th to give you sufficient time. We will be discussing Paleo diets on September 27th]

1)  Eaton (2006)-Ancestral human diet

2) Paleofantasy by Marlene Zuk

3) Genne-Bacon Thinking evolutionarily about obesity.

4) Paleo microbiota

Assignment due September 27th: Of the different sources of animal protein, fish seems to be very healthy, maybe even the healthiest, in the human diet. Elaine Morgan, an Oxford trained anthropologist, argues that early humans had an aquatic phase – the so called “aquatic ape” hypothesis, first proposed by marine biologist Alister Hardy. Morgan, Hardy, and others propose that early aquatic humans spent a lot of time in the water, explaining our lack of hair and tails, the ability to hold our breath, our upright posture good for wading, and our air filled sinuses. Aquatic apes would have eaten a lot of seafood, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, useful in brain development, maybe even permitting humans to evolve large brains. Argue for or against the idea that an aquatic phase for humanity explains why fish, and marine omega-3 fatty acids, are healthy for us humans.

Useful links:

“We got smart from eating fish and living in water”- Japan Times

Aquatic explanation for the sinuses

Wired magazine Sorry David Attenborough

Aquarboreal ancestors

John Hawks on the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis