Public Release: 

AIBS to cohost symposium on evolution, disease and human health

American Institute of Biological Sciences

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), in conjunction with the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, will host the fourth annual symposium on evolution on December 1, 2007, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia. The symposium, titled "Evolution: Applications in Human Health and Populations," is part of the 2007 Professional Development Conference sponsored by the National Association of Biology Teachers.

The aim of the symposium is to familiarize biology teachers with current research on evolution's role in disease, medicine, and human health, and to explore the ethical questions attendant to that role.

The following eminent scientists will make presentations:

  • Gregory Wray, director of the Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy at Duke University, will give a presentation titled "Genomic Perspectives on the Evolution of Human Health and Disease." Wray has a long-standing interest in the evolution of developmental mechanisms. Through his research, he has addressed the evolution of life history modes and larvae in echinoderms, the evolution of embryonic patterning mechanisms in metazoans, the timing of the metazoan radiation, and the role of regulatory gene expression in testing hypotheses of anatomical homology. His current projects focus on the evolution of developmental gene networks and mechanisms of transcriptional regulation. These projects use a variety of approaches and organisms to ask questions about the role that developmental processes play in the evolution of the genotype-phenotype relationship.
  • Carlos Bustamante, assistant professor of Biological Statistics and Computational Biology at Cornell University, will give a presentation titled "Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign: Interpreting Evident for Recent Natural Selection on the Human Genome." Bustamante's work focuses on developing statistical methods for inference in population and comparative genomics. He is particularly interested in approaches for testing evolutionary hypotheses regarding the importance of natural selection and demographic history in patterning genetic variation. Much of his work deals with development of population genetic theory as well as application of tools to make inference from genome-wide data sets. His recent work with domestic dogs was highlighted in the journal Science.
  • Marc Lipsitch, professor of Epidemiology in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard University, will give a presentation titled "Sex, Drugs and Natural Selection: Evolutionary Perspectives on Antibiotic Resistance." Lipsitch researches population biology and the evolution of populations of infectious agents in response to selection from host immunity (natural and vaccine induced), antimicrobial agents, and other pressures. A central question in his research is whether widespread use in humans of conjugate vaccines, against a subset of serotypes will result in increased carriage of nonvaccine serotypes ("serotype replacement"), and if so, what the public health consequences will be. He is also interested in the within-host population dynamics of antimicrobial resistance, the development of improved treatment protocols to reduce selection for resistant bacteria, and the design of studies to measure the selective effect of treatment on antimicrobial resistance. His article "The Secret Life of Hospital Bugs: Non-resistant Bacteria Shown to Be Hidden Ally in Fight Against Drug-resistant Strains" was recently published in Harvard Focus.
  • Sandra Romero-Steiner, senior investigator in the Meningitis and Vaccine Preventable Diseases Branch of the Division of Bacterial Diseases at the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will give a presentation titled "The Race between Bacterial Adaptation and Protection of the Host." Romero-Steiner has developed numerous methodologies for the measurement of the immune response to licensed and candidate vaccines to Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae, and Neisseria meningitides. She has developed assays for the measurement of functional antibody activity specific for pneumococci and Haemophilus species. Romero-Steiner has also been involved in immunogenicity studies of people who have undergone bone marrow transplants and splenectomies, have sickle cell anemia, or are HIV positive.
  • George Armelagos is the Goodrich C. White Professor of Anthropology and Department Chair at Emory University. He will give a presentation titled "The Road to the Viral Super Highway: Emerging Disease in the Time of Globalization." Armelagos is a biological anthropologist who researches the interaction of biological and cultural systems within an evolutionary context, particularly focusing on diet and disease in human adaptation. He revolutionized the study of ancient disease in human populations by promoting an epidemiological approach and highlighting the evolutionary and ecological factors that are instrumental to the disease process. Armelagos has been a central player in the establishment, development and promotion of the field of bioarchaeology. His current research looks at race and its utility as a concept for understanding biological variation in human populations. He is the coauthor, with Peter Farb, of Consuming Passions: The Anthropology of Eating.
  • Sandra Soo-Jin Lee, the senior research scholar at the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford University, will give a presentation titled "The Ethical Implications of Representing Evolution and Interpreting Difference." Lee is an anthropologist who studies race, ethnicity, and culture in science, technology, and biomedicine. Her research focuses on the social and scientific meanings of race in human genetic variation research and their implications for understanding human differences. She has conducted a study on the social and ethical issues related to DNA sampling of human populations, as well as policies around the use of racial taxonomies by publicly funded cell repositories. Her current project, "Race and Distributive Justice in Pharmacogenomics Research," includes the development of an anthropology of racial justice, with a particular focus on health disparities among populations.
  • David Sloan Wilson, a professor in the departments of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University, will give a presentation titled "Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives." Wilson uses evolutionary theory to study foraging behavior, altruism, and the nature of individual differences among organisms as diverse as microbes, zooplankton, insects, birds, fish, and humans. He is well known for his work on multilevel selection, in which the fundamental ingredients of evolution--variation, heritability, and fitness differences--can exist at all levels of the biological hierarchy. Dr. Wilson's newest book, Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives, is written for a general audience.

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For more information on the 2007 evolution symposium, and for links to previous symposia, see www.aibs.org/special-symposia/2007_evolution-in-human-health-populations.html.

About AIBS: The American Institute of Biological Sciences is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) scientific association dedicated to advancing biological research and education for the welfare of society. Founded in 1947 as a part of the National Academy of Sciences, AIBS became an independent, member-governed organization in the 1950s. Today, with headquarters in Washington, DC, and a staff of approximately 50, AIBS is sustained by a robust membership of some 5,000 biologists and 200 professional societies and scientific organizations; the combined individual membership of the latter exceeds 250,000. AIBS advances its mission by participating in coalition activities in research, education, and public policy; publishing the peer-reviewed journal BioScience and the education Web site ActionBioscience.org; providing scientific peer review and advisory services to government agencies and other clients; convening meetings; and managing scientific programs.

Web site: www.aibs.org.

About NESCent: The National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent), a center funded by the National Science Foundation, is designed to promote synthetic research in evolutionary biology. NESCent is a collaboration among Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University. More information about NESCent is available at www.nescent.org

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