OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

Evolutionary medicine and its themes explored on May 5

04/27/2011

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The influence of evolution on medicine is the focus of the next Horning Lecture, which will be held 4 p.m. Thursday, May 5 on the Oregon State University campus. The free, public event will be held in the Journey Room of the Memorial Union.

Stephen Stearns, professor at Yale University, will give a talk in “Major Themes in Evolutionary Medicine.”

The lecture will focus on two medical issues that have been strongly shaped by evolutionary history. The first is the hygiene hypothesis, which suggests that lack of early exposure to certain parasites and germs can cause susceptibility to other diseases, such as allergies and autoimmune disorders. According to Stearns, it is a novel insight that involves “delightfully disgusting worms.”

The second theme that has shaped evolutionary medicine involves a genetic tug-of-war between parents.  Evolutionary conflicts of interest between parents can disrupt the expression of certain genes and cause significant differences in, for example, birth weight. Stearns will discuss the less well-supported speculation of whether those consequences also include mental disease, shedding light on the origins of autism and schizophrenia.

Stearns specializes in life history evolution and evolutionary medicine and his books include “Evolution in Health and Disease.” He helped to found and has been president of both the European Society for Evolutionary Biology and the Tropical Biology Association. He was the founding editor of the Journal of Evolutionary Biology.

“The Historical Sciences” lecture series explores some of the sciences that look at the past to tell us about the present. The Horning Lecture Series is made possible through the support of the Horning Endowment in the Humanities. For more information, contact the History Department at 541-737-8560 or visit www.oregonstate.edu/cla/history