|Science of Living Systems 21: Evolutionary Medicine
General Education and Global Health & Health Policy Secondary Field / Half course / Next offered: Spring 2012 (not offered in Spring 2013).
Throughout life, we hear about behaviors that negatively impact our health, and we read news reports about the emergence of new infectious diseases. We are also learning more about the genetic underpinnings of a wide variety of health outcomes, such as obesity or susceptibility to infections. Rarely do the medical establishment and news media consider the evolutionary explanations for these phenomena. Why are some infectious diseases, such as malaria, more harmful than others, such as the common cold? How and why has our evolutionary history made us susceptible to diseases, such as diabetes, that have negative impacts on reproductive success and longevity? Under what conditions do infectious agents evolve antibiotic resistance?
In this course, we will explore the emerging field of evolutionary medicine. This new area of research aims to understand infectious and genetic diseases in an evolutionary context and to apply evolutionary principles to ameliorate the effects of disease in human populations. The integration of evolutionary thinking to medical science provides new insights to a wide variety of medical conditions, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, allergies, and the evolution of virulence.
As a General Education offering, this course is intended for anyone interested in how evolutionary perspectives can provide insights to human health, including non-science majors who may be more likely consumers of medical care than producers of it.
Infectious diseases play a major role in the lives of wild animals. Parasites and pathogens should be especially important for animals in which social contact increases opportunities for disease spread. In this context, primates offer a unique opportunity to examine how behavior influence the risk of acquiring infectious diseases. Moreover, understanding primate disease ecology is essential for understanding the role of infectious disease in human evolution, and for making sense of emerging diseases in modern humans.
In this course, we explore the new field of primate disease ecology through reading and discussion of the primary literature. You will learn about diseases found in non-human primates and humans, and you will learn the basics of disease ecology and
Understanding human evolution requires us to reconstruct the past and to identify the adaptive basis of primate traits. How can this be achieved for behavior, language, culture and other traits that lack a clear fossil record? Biologists have recently developed a set of methods that, for the first time, provide tools to probe the past in a rigorous way. These methods have had a major impact on biological research in the past decade, and they are now starting to impact research across fields in anthropology.
This course will provide hands-on experience in evolutionary methods in a smallclassroom, research-focused setting. I expect this course will be unlike any you have had before, for several reasons:
1. You will be given a tremendous amount of flexibility to explore a question of personal interest to you. I will work with you to identify a question, methods and sources of data, but ultimately you will be the Principal Investigator.
2. You will learn how to communicate effectively about scientific research.Each of you will share with the rest of us a set of methods and what you discovered, and you will receive feedback from us as you pursue your research.
3. Lastly, you can use this course as an opportunity to consider possible research projects for future research. I expect that many of the independent projects pursued by students in the class could be expanded in independent research in the future, including possible senior honors projects.
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