Evolutionary Biology and Human Disease
University Course 262 - Biology 262 - Psychology 232
The University of Michigan - Fall Term 2005
Lectures: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 4:00 - 5:30 pm
1210 Chemistry Building

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Tuesdays and Thursdays  4:00 pm - 5:30 pm 1210 Chemistry Building


Discussion Sections:

Sect. Day Time Location Graduate Student Instructor
002 Monday 10:00 am - 12:00 pm 2401 Mason Hall  Stephanie Gervasi
003 Tuesday 10:00 am - 12:00 pm 2112 Mod. Lang. Build. (MLB)  Ashley Hazel
004 Wednesday 10:00 am - 12:00 pm 2212 MLB Stephanie Gervasi
005 Wednesday   2:00 pm -   4:00 pm 2006 MLB Jennifer Harwood-Stamper
006 Thursday 10:00 am - 12:00 pm 1469 MH  Ashley Hazel
007 Friday   2:00 pm -   4:00 pm 2401 MH Jennifer Harwood-Stamper



Prof. Randolph Nesse

Email: nesse@umich.edu;

Office Phone: 764-6593

Office: 3217 East Hall

Office hours: by appointment**


Prof. Alan Weder

Email: aweder@umich.edu

Office Phone: 998-7956

Office: 24 Frank Lloyd Wright Drive, Lobby M, P.O. Box 322

Office hours: 3-4 PM, Tuesday & Thursday, 1273 East Hall


**Prof. Nesse will usually be available in the atrium of the Chemistry building for 1 hour before class.  This is so that students have an opportunity to have an informal discussion with him regarding any issues or questions about the course.

Graduate Student Instructors

Stephanie Gervasi
Email: sgervasi@umich.edu
Office: G573 Dana Building
Office Hours: 9-11 AM Tuesday

Jennifer Harwood-Stamper
Email: jlharwoo@umich.edu
Office: 1271 East Hall
Office Hours: 2-4 PM Monday

Ashley Hazel
Email: ahazel@umich.edu
Office Phone: 764-6189
Office: 1
271 East Hall
Office hours: 1
-3 PM Monday


Course Description: This 4-credit course will use the problems of medicine and public health as a framework for teaching the principals of evolutionary biology.  We will engage students in critical thinking about disease origins and causation from the novel viewpoint of Darwinian medicine using the principals of evolutionary biology including natural selection, adaptation, phylogenetic analysis, and general scientific hypothesis testing.  The course will entail lectures and participation in group discussion sections, laboratories, computer exercises and one field trip.  This is an offering in the College of LS&A’s Life Sciences Initiative and is intended for undergraduates, particularly freshmen and sophomores.


Reading Materials:


Nesse and Williams. 1995.  Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian MedicineVintage Books.

Available at Ulrich's Book Store:
     Dollar Bill Copying
     611 Church
     Phone: 734.665.9200
     Hours of Operation: M-Th 9am-8pm, F 9am-6pm, Saturday noon-5pm, Sunday CLOSED

Additional Readings for both lectures and discussion/lab sections:


A course pack with all additional readings is available for purchase from Dollar Bill Copying, located at 611 Church Street (734-665-9200).  All readings are also available in PDF format on the C-Tools website for this class.  Any changes to the reading schedule will be announced in lecture or discussion.

Course-packs are available at Dollar Bill Copying:
     611 Church
     Phone: 734.665.9200
     Hours of Operation: M-Th 9am-8pm, F 9am-6pm, Saturday noon-5pm, Sunday CLOSED

Course-pack readings and additional readings are available on the c-tools website: https://ctools.umich.edu/portal

One book individually selected from the short list of suggested readings
One book individually selected from the long list of suggested readings


Grades: Course grades are based on the following:

Mid-term exam Thursday Oct. 20th (in class) 100 points
Review Paper Thursday Dec. 1st 100 points
Final Thursday Dec. 15th (in class) 100 points
Discussion Section

Weekly Assignments and Participation

150 points
Lecture quizzes

In class, unannounced

  50 points
Total   500 points

Academic Standards Information for this course is available from: http://www.lsa.umich.edu/saa/standards/acadjudic.html

We are grateful to LSA and the University of Michigan Life Sciences Initiative for making this course possible. 


Review Paper: (Due at the beginning of lecture on Thursday, December 1, 2005)

Timeline for preparation of research and writing for review paper:

  • By beginning of Spring Break: Pick topic
  • Week of Nov. 8th: Deadline for turning in (optional) preliminary drafts for comments
  • Weeks of Nov. 1st & Nov. 8th: Brief (5 minute) presentations in discussion sections
  • December 1st:  Final deadline for turning in final paper in lecture (1 point deducted every day the paper is late for one week; papers turned in  a week  after the deadline will not be accepted)

This assignment gives you an opportunity to bring together the principles of Darwinian medicine by applying them to a specific disease or manifestation of disease.  You may choose any disease, symptom, or health problem that interests you if your GSI approves the topic.  Here are some suggestions: 


Coronary heart disease


Inflammatory bowel disease



Obsessive-compulsive disorder


Erythroblastosis fetalis


Rheumatoid arthritis


Acute myelocytic leukemia


Precocious puberty

Marfan’s syndrome

Muscular dystrophy

Cystic fibrosis





Peptic ulcers


Wilson’s disease

Specific allergies

Breast cancer


Alzheimer’s disease



West Nile virus

Opportunistic nosocomial infections

Sleeping sickness

Dengue hemorrhagic fever

Panic attacks

Multiple sclerosis

Huntington’s chorea

Prion diseases (CJD, mad cow)

Format: 8-10 pages long (double-spaced, Times New Roman, 12 point font, 1.25” margins).

Your paper should be written in the format of a research paper or proposal. Your first section should give the background to the question, state the question and the hypotheses (more than one) you intend to test and explain why the question is important.  The next section should explain how you tested the hypotheses, and what you found, and finally, you should draw some conclusions about what you learned in your research.  The next page provides an outline to help you construct your paper.

The class website (www.darwinianmedicine.org) has links to the APA reference citing guide as well as how to research and use scientific references. Your GSIs and faculty instructors are also available to help you select a topic and answer questions about using library and internet resources.

Your paper should follow this outline

Your paper should have the following outline:

I.        Describe the disease or symptom or phenomenon that you are trying to explain.  This should be no more than one page and should define the disease and provide a brief summary of what is known about its epidemiology and its proximate causes.  You may be able to get most of what you need from a standard medical textbook, several of which are online at the Taubman Library website under “Full text resources.”

II.     Use the following ideas to help you shape your hypotheses to test.  Your hypotheses should be set up as alternative or interconnected explanations.  For most diseases you will want to consider all of the potential reasons below:

A.     Our bodies were shaped to cope with a different environment (also, certain genes cause    

         disease only in the modern environment)

B.     The design cannot be better because of constraints present in all systems: such as tradeoffs

         and physical impossibilities

C.     The design cannot be better because of constraints peculiar to evolved organisms, including     

         path dependence and chance factors such as rare mutations

D.     The genes and traits in question increase reproduction at the expense of health

E.      The phenomenon is not a disease but a defense (also, how the defense is regulated)

F.      Pathogens evolve faster than we do (also, resulting arms races and their complications)

**If you pick an infectious disease, you will also want to cover the evolutionary history of the organism and the co-evolution of defenses and counter defense.

III.   Summarize your conclusions based on which hypotheses you found the most support for and say what kinds of further studies or evidence would help to further resolve the issue

Format: 8-10 pages long (double spaced, Times 12 point font, 1.25” margins ).

References:  You are expected to use references from primary literature.  This will mean going to the library and using academic journals and books.  Web citations, in most cases, are NOT appropriate. If you do not know how to use the library resources, please ask your GSI and/or the librarians at the library.  When you cite a reference in your paper you should use the (author, date; author, date) format, as exemplified below.

In the bibliography, references should be cited, in APA style, as follows:

Kitaysky, A. S., E. V. Kitaiskaia, J. C. Wingfield, and J. F. Piatt. 2001. Dietary restriction causes chronic elevation of corticosterone and enhances stress response in red-legged kittiwake chicks. Journal of Comparative Physiology B-Biochemical Systemic and Environmental Physiology 171:701-709.

Sapolsky, R. M. 2002. Endocrinology of the Stress-Response. Pp. 409-450 (in J. B. Becker, S. M. Breedlove, D. Crews, and M. M. McCarthy, editors). Behavioral Endocrinology. M.I.T. Press, Cambridge.

Use this guide if you have unanswered questions about how to Cite Reference Sources using APA 5th Edition Style [PDF]

The final paper should have at least 8 scientific references in it and your outline (due before spring break) should list at least five relevant references. Use this resource guide or complete this online tutorial if you have any questions about what a scientific reference is or how to find one.

The bibliography is not included in the 10-page limit.  GSIs and faculty instructors are available to help in topic selection and identification of library and Internet research resources.


Reading Assignments:

Each person will be responsible for reading and reporting on two books from the recommended book list (see below).  The total length should not exceed 3 pages.  All work should be double-spaced in twelve-point font.  These reports will be due in discussion section the weeks of Oct. 10th & Nov. 17thEach book report counts toward 25 points of the final grade.  In grading this paper, the emphasis will not be on style or grammar (although sloppiness will be duly noted), but on how well you demonstrate your knowledge of the material you read and your ability to apply your critical thinking skills to your reading. Each report should have three basic parts, as described in the following outline.

1.  Give a brief, one paragraph overview of the book.

2.  Then explain, with detail and support from the book, how this book has helped you understand concepts discussed in lecture.  Give at least three examples from the book.

3.  Pick three quotations from the book that you feel are particularly important.  In one or two sentences, describe why you feel this makes for an interesting quote and what pertinence it holds to this course and the book. (This section should not take more than 1 page.)

4.  In this course we have discussed several controversial topics in biology.  In your reading of this book, do you think the author is biased in favor of one viewpoint or another?  Why and why not?   What questions remained after reading the book?  Is there anything you didn’t understand, or anything you felt the author needed to explain in more depth?  


Short List of Essential Books – Choose one for first assigned review/critique:

Assignment One: choose a book from the SHORT LIST (below).

Assignment Two: choose a book from either the Short List or the Long List (further below).  If you would like to read some else entirely, get approval from your GSI first.

Short List of Essential Books – Choose one for first assigned review/critique

Several of these books are quite long.  When books are in excess of 300 pages, you may choose certain segments (i.e. several chapters relevant to the course) to report on.  The object of this exercise is not to flood you with reading, but to expose you to different authors and useful interpretations.  We have chosen a wide variety of subjects from numerous authors, and most are both engaging and easy to read.  You may also choose a book not present on the list with the permission of the instructors.

Evolution: General

  • Darwin, Charles: The Origin of Species
  • Dawkins, R.  The Selfish Gene.  1990.  Oxford U. Press, 352 pages, paperback.
  • Ridley, Matthew.  Genome.  2000.  HarperCollins, 352 pages, $11.20.
  • Maynard Smith, J.  The Theory of Evolution.  1993.  Cambridge University Press, 376 pages, $13.30.
  • Bell, G.  The Basics of Selection.  1996.  Kluwer Academic Publishers, 404 pages, $54. [The real McCoy.  Read this if you want the clear unvarnished theory]
  • Mayr, Ernst and Jared Diamond.  What Evolution Is Basic Books, 336 p, $12
  • Lewin, Roger. Patterns in Evolution: The New Molecular View. W H Freeman 1999, 246 pages
  • Zimmer, Carl Evolution : The Triumph of an Idea, Perennial, 2002, 384 pages, $6used, $16 new. [based on the PBS series]
  • Matt Ridley: The Agile Gene : How Nature Turns on Nurture
  • Richard Dawkins: The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution
  • Ernst Mayr: What Makes Biology Unique? : Considerations on the Autonomy of a Scientific Discipline
  • Geerat J. Vermeij: Nature : An Economic History
  • Stephen R. Palumbi: The Evolution Explosion: How Humans Cause Rapid Evolutionary Change 

Evolution and Natural History

  • Weiner, J.  The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time.  1995.  Vintage Books, 332 pages, $11.20.

Evolution and Infectious Disease

  • Ewald, P.  Evolution of Infectious Disease.  1994.  Oxford U. Press.
  • Drexler, M.  Secret Agents: The Menace of Emerging Infections.  2002.  Joseph Henry Press, 332 pages, paperback, $10.50.

Evolution and Disease

  • Palumbi, Stephen R. The Evolution Explosion: How Humans Cause Rapid Evolutionary Change 288 p, 2001.
  • Greaves, M. F.  Cancer: The Evolutionary Legacy, 290 pages, 2002.

Evolution and Human Nature

  • Ridley, Matthew.  The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature.  1995.  Paperback.
  • Wright R: The moral animal : The new science of evolutionary psychology. New York, Pantheon Books, 1994


Long List of Suggested Books – pick one for second assigned review/critique:

Evolution: General

  • Darwin, Charles. The Origin of Species : By Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. 1999. Bantam Classic/Mass Market Paperback.
  • Dennett, Daniel C. Darwin's Dangerous Idea : Evolution and the Meanings of Life. 1996, paperback, 672 pages, Touchstone Books.
  • Futuyma, Douglas J. Science on Trial: The Case for Evolution. Reprint: 1995, 287 pages, Sinauer. [the standard text]
  • Ridley, Mark.  Evolution Blackwell Science 1996, 719 pages, $87 new, $3 used. [another very useful text on evolution]
  • Mayr, E.  What Evolution Is.  2002.  Basic Books, 336 pages, $11.20.
  • Maynard Smith, J.  The Origins of Life: From the Birth of Life to the Origins of Language.  2000.  Oxford University Press, 192 pages, $13.95.
  • Zimmer, C.  Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea.  2002.  Perennial, 384 pages, $16.07.

Evolution and Natural History

  • Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. 1999, paperback. 408 pages, Norton.
  • Diamond, Jared.  The Third Chimpanzee : The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal
  • Dawkins, R. The Blind Watchmaker : Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design. 1996. 358 pages, paperback, Norton.
  • Gould, Stephen Jay. Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History. 1990. Paperback, Norton.
  • Williams, G.C. The Pony Fish's Glow: and Other Clues to Plan and Purpose in Nature. 1998. Paperback, 192 pages, Basic Books.

Evolution and Religion

  • Gould, Stephen Jay. Rocks of Ages : Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life (Library of Contemporary Thought). 1999. $13.26 Hardcover - 241 pages, Balantine Books.
  • Miller, Kenneth R. Finding Darwin's God. 2000. Paperback, 338 pages, Cliff Street Books
  • Ruse, Michael. Can a Darwinian Be a Christian? : The Relationship Between Science and Religion. (Hardcover - November 2000).

Evolution and Infectious Disease

  • McNeill, W.  Plagues and Peoples.  1977.  Anchor, 368 pages, $10.47.
  • Garrett, Laurie. The Coming Plague : Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance. 1995, Penguin. (LONG, read Intro. and chapters 2, 7, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 16, 17).
  • Kolata, Gina. Flu : The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It. 2001. Paperback - 352 pages, Touchstone.
  • Zimmer, Carl. Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures. 2001, paperback. 298 pages, Touchstone Books.
  • Rosenberg, C.  The Cholera Years: The United States in 1832, 1849, and 1866.  1987.  University of Chicago Press, 266 pages, $12.22.
  • Handelman, S. and K. Alibek.  Biohazard: The Chilling Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World – Told from Inside by the Man Who Ran It.  2000.  Delta, 336 pages, $10.47.

Evolution and Physiology

  • Schmidt-Nielsen, Knut. How Animals Work, Cambridge Univ Press, 120 pp, 1972, $10 Used.
  • Alexander, R. Optima for Animals, Princeton, 1996, 176 p, $37.
  • Hochachka, P.W and G. N. Somero. Biochemical Adaptation: Mechanism and Process in Physiological Evolution. Oxford University Press 480 pages , $40 [for a biochem major perhaps]

Evolution and Human Nature

  • McKeown, Thomas. 1991. The Origins of Human Disease. Blackwell, paperback - 240 pages, $26.95.
  • Ridley, Matt. Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation. 1998. Penguin, 304 pages, $11.16.
  • Silver, Lee. Remaking Eden : How Genetic Engineering and Cloning Will Transform the American Family. 1999. Avon, Paperback, 385 pages, $11.20.
  • Sapolsky, Robert M. 1998. Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers: An Updated Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping. WH Freeman, paperback, 434 pages.
  • Sapolsky, R.  The Trouble with Testosterone: And Other Essays on the Biology of the Human Predicament.  1998.  Scribner, 288 pages, paperback, $14.
  • Pinker, S.  The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.  2002.  Viking Press, 528 pages, paperback, $11.20.
  • Reilly, P.  Abraham Lincoln’s DNA and Other Adventures in Genetics.  2002.  Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, 339 pages, paperback, $15.
  • Hrdy, S.  Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species.  2000.  Ballantine Books, 752 pages, $13.27.
  • Diamond, J.  The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal.  1993.  Perennial, 416 pages, $13.50.


Lecture  and Readings Schedule

Key: WWGS=Why We Get Sick; PMG=Principals of Medical Genetics; WSM=Why Sex Matters





Reading Assignment


Tuesday, Sept. 6th

Intro. Dar. Med.

RN & Evans

Williams & Nesse (p. 1-22)

Nesse & Williams (p. 23-30)


Thursday, Sept. 8th

Where do genes come from?


Futuyma  (p. 31-82)


Tuesday, Sept. 13th

Popular thinking in molecular genetics


PMG, Ch. 4 (p. 83-100)


Thursday, Sept. 15th

How natural selection works


WWGS, Ch. 1 & 2

Grant (p. 101-106)

Lewontin (p. 107-118)


Tuesday, Sept. 20th

Tinbergen’s 4 questions


Mayr (p. 119-130)

Nesse (p. 131-132)

Nesse (p. 133-140)


Thursday, Sept. 22nd

Chance, contingency and tradeoffs


WWGS, Ch. 9


Tuesday, Sept. 27th

Public Health


Eaton et al (p. 141-150)


Thursday, Sept. 29th

Diseases of Civilization


Neel (p. 151-170)

WWGS, Ch. 10


Tuesday, Oct. 4th

Standards of Evidence


Nesse (p. 171-180)

Nesse (p. 181-188)

Nesse (p. 189-192)

Nesse (p. 193-200)


Thursday, Oct. 6th



To be announced


Tuesday, Oct. 11th

Antibiotic resistance


Levy (p. 201-212)


ThursdayOct. 13th

HIV, virulence, vectors


Ewald (213-220)

WWGS, Ch. 3 & 4


Tuesday, Oct. 18th

Study Break—no class




Thursday, Oct. 20th





Tuesday, Oct. 25th

Cancer I


WWGS, Ch. 12


Thursday, Oct. 27th

Cancer II


Greaves (p. 221-228)


Tuesday, Nov. 1st

Nature vs. Nurture


WWGS, Ch. 7

AAAS (p. 229-270)


Thursday, Nov. 3rd

Behavior & Emotions


WWGS, Ch. 13 & 14


Tuesday, Nov. 8th

Psychiatric disorders


Nesse (p. 271-296)


Thursday, Nov. 10th

Evolution of human birth


Rosenberg & Trevathan  (p. 297-302)


Tuesday, Nov. 15th

Evolution & Development/defenses


Nesse (p. 303-320)

WWGS, Ch. 5 & 6


Thursday, Nov. 17th



WWGS, Ch. 8

Rose (p. 321-332)

Kirkwood & Austad (p. 333-338)


Tuesday, Nov. 22nd

Why Sex Matters


WSM (p. 339-360)


Thursday, Nov. 24th

Thanksgiving—no class




Tuesday, Nov. 29th

Allergy & Autoimmune


NIH (p. 361-422)

WWGS, Ch. 11


Thursday, Dec. 1st

Genes and controversies


Cooper (p. 423-427)


Tuesday, Dec. 6th

Review, Models, Principals


 WWGS, Ch. 15


Thursday, Dec. 8th What's new and cool in evolution? ALL  


Tuesday, Dec. 13th FINAL EXAM - in class    



Discussion Section Topics and Readings

The following is a list of weekly lab topics, readings and assignments for the semester.  Please note, all readings listed for a particular week are expected to have been read BEFORE coming to discussion section.  Not completing your reading will result in your inability to participate in discussions, which may culminate in a loss of participation points.






Due dates


Sept. 6th—Sept. 9th

Introduction to course

None (Only applies to those whose discussion falls AFTER the first day of lecture.)




Sept. 12th—Sept. 16th

What is Science?

Futuyma (p. 1-16)

Orr (p. 17-22)

Krugman (p. 23-26)




Sept. 19th—Sept. 23rd

Populus lab

To be announced

Class meets in room 1720

CHEM Building




Sept. 26th—Sept. 30th


Eaton (p. 27-38)

Olshansky (p. 39-46)

Prepare your nutrition data before lab



Oct. 3rd—Oct.7th

Antibiotic Resistance I

NPR—“NPR Special Report: How Safe is the Food Supply?: Kicking the Habit of Antibiotics on the Farm” www.npr.org

WHO report (p. 47-90)

Class meets in room 1556 Dana Building



Oct. 11th—Oct. 14th

Antibiotic Resistance II


Class meets in room 1556 Dana Building

1st book report due


Oct. 17th—Oct. 21st

No lab—GSIs holding office hours

An excellent opportunity to meet with your GSI and discuss any issues of importance to you.


Begin thinking about paper topic


Oct. 24th—Oct. 28th

Museum lab

Mayr (p. 91-96)

A Science Primer (p.97-122)


Antibiotic lab report due


Oct. 31st—Nov. 4th

Presentations I





Nov. 7th—Nov. 11

Presentations II





Nov. 14th—Nov. 18th

Behavior observations and field notes

Betzig (p. 123-136)


2nd book report due


Nov. 21st—Nov. 25th

Paper discussion week





Nov. 28th—Dec. 2nd

Sexual Selection

Daly & Wilson (p. 137-171)


Review papers due


Dec. 5th—Dec. 9th

Jeopardy Review





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