WHEN: May 23-26, 2007
WHERE: National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent), Durham, NC, USA
ORGANIZERS: Stephen Stearns, Ph.D., Yale University
Diddahally Govindaraju, Ph.D., Boston University School of Medicine, Director, Framingham Heart Study Genetics Laboratory
Peter Byers, M.D., University of Washington
The good news: improved health care is reducing occurrences of intestinal parasites worldwide. The bad news: at the same time, rates of asthma are increasing worldwide. The link between these trends? Evolution human evolution. The human immune system has evolved in the constant presence of intestinal parasites. The immune system is designed to react to these parasites in their absence, the immune system overreacts to simple allergens, resulting in asthma. Its evolved state is mismatched to modernity. Similar mismatches produce increased risk of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease in modern adult populations. Globalization is making understanding these types of complex evolutionary relationships more relevant in medicine as human environments change. As globalization improves standards of living, it also elicits medical surprises and disease burdens that can be illuminated by evolutionary insights.
In his book Evolution in Health and Disease (Oxford University Press, 1998), meeting co-organizer Dr. Stephen Stearns examines the relationship between human biology, lifestyle and health. He describes how human biology is the result both of macroevolution changes occurring over a long period of time, and microevolution changes occurring right now. The recent history of humans includes major changes in lifestyle in industrialized and developing countries that have altered the selective pressures on humans. The ensuing microevolutionary consequences present novel medical problems and offer new possibilities for clinical interventions.