innovationSupported Projects and Meetings

  • “Progressive loss of chemical resistance in pollution-adapted Atlantic killifish” Seed Grant (2017): PIs are Richard DiGiulio, Caren Weinhouse, and Nishad Jayasundara, Duke University. Atlantic killifish populations that have adapted to environmental pollution are a classic example of the emerging field of evolutionary toxicology. The killifish in the Elizabeth River, Virginia, have evolved remarkable resistance to toxic effects of high levels of industrial pollution. An important detoxification gene is nonresponsive to pollution in adapted fish, but becomes more sensitive to pollution in later generations, implying that this gene’s behavior is not due entirely to irreversible genetic change. This project will test the hypothesis that reversible epigenetic changes underlie this progressive loss of resistance in pollution-adapted killifish in the Elizabeth River. We will test a range of epigenetic marks that might control the behavior of this gene. Our findings will provide important insights into the role of epigenetic changes as an effective strategy in generational response to chemical exposure and rapid adaptation to radical environmental change.

  • “Linking fish models to human health through the sequences of living fossils” Seed Grant (2016) PIs are Jeff Yoder, Alex Dornburg, and Michael Fisk, NCSU. Unraveling the evolutionary history of certain fish genes continues to inform important aspects of human health. We share 70 percent of our genes with fish, and advances in genetic engineering allow us to test how these genes contribute to everything from behavior to disease. While several fish species are already used as model systems, all contain a duplicated genome. This genome duplication is a major problem that makes relating genetic mechanisms between humans and fish especially difficult. Consequently, this raises the challenge of identifying species that bridge the genetic gap between model fish and humans. Fortunately, several species of living freshwater fishes may well be the missing link – gar, bowfin and bichirs. Referred to by Darwin as living fossils, these ancient fish lineages do not possess a duplicated genome. Instead they contain a mix of genes that sometimes more closely resemble those in humans rather than fish. This amazing similarity can be utilized when we develop a better understanding of how the genomes of these living fossils evolved, which will be critical in linking the genes of fish to humans. Our work will investigate genes relevant to human immune function also shared by gar, bowfin and bichir species. We will improve our understanding of how immune genes evolved by comparing genes within and between these ancient groups, as well as with other model fish species and humans. Our work will provide an important framework for effectively translating genetic research in model fish to human health and disease.


  • “Awakening to the Significance of Sleep and Health Disparities” Symposium and Working Group (2016) Organizers are Charlie Nunn and David Samson, Duke. Sleep is a critically important aspect of human biology and health that varies in relation to environmental, social, and cultural factors. Recent findings are linking sleep disparities to health disparities, and providing new insights to the evolution and function of sleep. This symposium explored emerging connections between changing environments, disrupted sleep, and health outcomes in the US and globally.


  • “Evolutionary Perspectives on Global Health: Plasticity and Pathways” Working Group (2016) Organizers are Amanda Thompson and Mark Sorensen, UNC-Chapel Hill. This working group explores the factors that contribute to global patterns of health and disease. Through inter-disciplinary talks and discussion with experts in evolutionary biology, global health and medicine, we will examine the biological and evolutionary factors that put individuals at risk for or protect them from developing malnutrition, contracting infectious disease, or suffering from chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. We will work together to propose innovative strategies incorporating evolutionary models into global health practice.


  • “The Energetic Basis of Aging: An Evolutionary Perspective” Working Group (August 2015) Organizer: Craig McClain, Duke University. The lifespan of metazoans ranges from timescales of22563_DSC1306-ED_lc-7138-7139-254x300 days to centuries. Understanding the drivers of this variation may elucidate key processes that regulate aging. Considerable variation in both spatial and temporal in energy availability also occur globally are hypothesized to control longevity. Increased temperature, i.e. thermal energy, is predicted to decrease lifespan as it increases metabolism and molecule damaging free radicals. Caloric restriction, i.e. decreases in chemical energy, may increase lifespan by either slowing metabolism or trigging a neural mediated stress response that prevents free radical damage. How much of the natural variation in lifespan among metazoans reflects variation in these factors is incompletely understood. I propose to assemble a scientific team spanning disciplinary and careers stage boundaries. This group will quantify the relationship between longevity and energy availability among a broad suite of metazoans in the wild specifically examining how spatial and temporal variation in thermal energy, i.e. temperature, and chemical energy, i.e. food availability, impact the lifespans of wild populations in an evolutionary context.


  • Evolutionary and Comparative Medicine Interest Group for the Triangle (ECMIG) (Current): Organizers are Temini Ajayi, Duke University, Nick Brazeau, UNC-Chapel Hill, Stephanie Folkerts, NCSU, and Melissa Manus, Duke University. As the field of evolutionary medicine continues to expand, there is an increased need for incorporating evolutionary perspectives and approaches in the medical field and educational setting. This importance of including evolutionary medicine in the medical school curriculum has been recognized recently by several evolutionary medicine leaders and efforts are being made to promote awareness and fuse the fields. However, few medical schools have formally incorporated evolutionary medicine into their curriculum or offer institutes focused on evolutionary medicine. The research triangle area is in the unique position to support evolutionary medicine collaborations among educational and research institutes by drawing on the strengths of the Triangle Center for Evolutionary Medicine (TriCEM). In addition, the research triangle is surrounded by top-ranked schools of medicine (Duke), global and public health (Duke Global Health Institute and UNC-Gillings), and veterinary sciences (NC-State). Thus, this groups aims to provide medical students, veterinary students, and graduate students with exposure and access to the field of evolutionary medicine through collaborations, seminars, and social gatherings.


  • Your Body by Darwin (February 1, 2016): Doctors often work to cure our ills as if we are malfunctioning machines and they are teams of skilled mechanics. But the human body is not a machine — it is a bundle of living material that has been
    produced over millennia through evolution by natural selection. Join author Jeremy Taylor for a closer look at how evolution shapes our health and transforms medicine. This lecture tour is based on his second book “Body by Darwin: How Evolution Shapes Our Health and Transforms Medicine,” which was published in October 2015 by University of Chicago Press.