Supported Projects and Meetings

  • Risk Alleles for Type 2 Diabetes in Sea Islanders and Evolutionary Lag: A Comparative Analysis (2016): Organizers are Kyle Summers, Keith Keene, and Toyin Babatunde, East Carolina University. Type 2 diabetes (T2DM) is increasing globally, and affects some ethnic and racial groups differently. Some evidence indicates that these differences may be affected by different patterns of refined carbohydrate consumption across human history. Populations that were not exposed to diets high in refined carbohydrates until recently may be more susceptible to T2DM when exposed to these diets. This is known as evolutionary lag, and may explain some of the genetic variation associated with susceptibility to T2DM. We propose to test this hypothesis by comparing the genetic variation in genes associated with T2DM risk in an island-dwelling African American population (the Sea Islanders) to West African populations, to search for evidence of natural selection on these genes in the Sea Islanders. This can provide insights into the causes of variation in susceptibility to T2DM, and guide research aimed at curing this disease.

  • Mechanisms of social behavior: implications for human health Symposium (September 2015) Organizer: Kyle Summers, East Carolina University. This symposium will bring together scientists working on the mechanisms underlying social behavior at multiple levels (genetic, physiological, cognitive and behavioral) in a variety of vertebrate species, including frogs, mice, non-human primates and humans. Presentations will focus on the relevance of these mechanisms to an enhanced understanding of health and disease, both in humans and non-human animals. In addition to the presentations, there will be ample opportunity for interactions and discussion between the presenters and attendees, including a poster session.

  • Immunologically structured societies (2016): Organizers are Seth Barribeau, Olav Rueppell, and David Tarpy. The vertebrate immune system is capable of not only exquisite detail, in terms of its specificity, but is also able to remember previous diseases to protect against future exposure. What’s less well known is that this is not unique to vertebrates. Many ‘simpler’ organisms are able to retain memory of past pathogens and are even able to transmit this information to their offspring. Intriguingly, both mothers and fathers are able to warn their offspring of probable diseases. In many
    animal systems, females may mate with many males and have offspring sired by some number of those males. This is true in honeybees, where queens mate with many males. Both honeybee and bumblebee queens are able to transfer protection to their daughters but it isn’t known whether this protection can be transferred by males, as is the case in beetles for example. This has important implications for understanding honeybee loss, much of which is attributed to disease, but also opens the door to an amazing social system with which to study epidemiology in an immunologically
    complex society.
  • An evolutionary perspective on the role of disgust in psychiatric illness (2016) Organizers are Eleanor Hanna and Caroline Amoroso. Disgust is an unsolved puzzle in emotion research, in part because it is difficult to determine the function of an emotion that responds to so many different things. If the smell of rotting fruit can inspire the same emotional experience as reading about the behavior of a sleazy politician, what possible underlying role could that emotion perform? Furthermore, what evolutionary pressures could have shaped it? These questions have taken on increased importance in recent years, in the light of an influx of research suggesting that disgust may play a critical role in a variety of psychiatric diseases, from obsessive compulsive disorder to eating disorders. The goal of our working group is to draw on the existing literature across a variety of disciplines in order to investigate the relationship between disgust and diseases of the mind, from the standpoint of evolutionary medicine.