UNM Evolutionary Medicine – Fall Semester

Welcome to the UNM Evolutionary Medicine Course!

Evolutionary Medicine
Biol. 402-038 Biol. 502-038
UNM Department of Biology Fall 2010

Tuesdays from 5:30pm to 8:00pm

If you are enrolled, congratulations! You will be among the select few who will leave your studies with an understanding of evolution in medicine. The course will give learners a rigorous new perspective that can be applied to problems in health and disease. In addition, this semester will feature guest speakers who are working on cutting edge concepts in evolutionary medicine, anthropology, and epidemiology.

The goals of the course include:

– Understand basic concepts of evolutionary biology and natural selection that are important in medicine.

– Understand the difference between ultimate and proximate levels of causation in human diseases.

– Learn why we have vulnerabilities to illnesses, why diseases are expressed in certain populations, and why we have genetic and environmental susceptibility to illness – from an evolutionary perspective.

–  Appreciate the role of adaptation (reproductive benefit) in health and illness.

– Develop skills to recognize evolutionary medical paradoxes (apparent self-injury and counterproductive physiology) and practice generating testable hypotheses for these problems.

– Learn how evolutionary constraints and “accidents of history” contribute to certain diseases.

– Discover how evolutionary concepts help the clinician, biomedical researcher, medical anthropologist, and epidemiologist.

Each week will focus on an area of interest in Evolutionary Medicine.

Weekly topics will include:

1) Evolutionary medicine overview – why is this topic important?
2) Evolution of aging – why do we deteriorate with age?
3) Evolution of reproductive senescence – what is special about human menopause?
4) Disease symptoms – pathology or host defense? Is fever beneficial? morning sickness?
5) Heterozygote advantage – selective advantage for red blood cell and clotting polymorphisms?
6) Evolution of human populations at altitude – how long does it take for human groups to evolve resistance to environmental diseases?
7) Gene-environment mismatch – do we have stone age physiology that is a poor fit in a radically changed modern environment?
8. Evolution of virulence – how does the common cold differ from anthrax, cholera, and malaria?
9) Evolution of antibiotic resistance – the evolution of Beta lactamases in E. coli.
10) Evolution of antimalarial resistance in Plasmodium falciparum.
11) Reproductive conflict – does genomic conflict explain some diseases of pregnancy and early development?
12) Thrifty genotype and phenotype – how might selection for thrifty genes and early developmental programming lead to diabetes and cardiovascular disease?
13) The evolution of food preferences and dietary inflammation – why have we evolved to seek certain foods, avoid others, and why are some foods healthier than others?
14) Evolutionary considerations of a Thanksgiving meal – from lactose intolerance to factory farming

Course Requirements & Grading:
Students will be expected to attend all lectures.  Students should complete assigned readings prior to that week’s lecture and contribute to discussions. Each week, following lectures and discussions, students will be asked to complete a written summary of that week’s topic. There will be in-class quizzes each week as well. As a one-time assignment, students will be asked to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of journal articles in evolutionary medicine. For this “Journal Club”, a small group will be assigned a journal article to present to the group and provide commentary. Finally, each student will make a presentation during the last two weeks of the course. Students should choose an area that interests them and produce a brief talk (powerpoint or equivalent) to present to the group.

Final grades will be determined by the following:

1) Attendance and participation – 20%

2) Weekly quizzes – 10%

3) Writing projects – 20%

4) Journal club (midterm presentation) – 20%

5) Final Presentation – 30%

Check back for more detail. More to come!

Joe Alcock MD

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