Our Work

Shining Evolutionary Light on Global Health Challenges




- 2015-08-21 21:31:19

Project Objectives

Understanding evolution is vital to tackling our most urgent health challenges, including the spread of new and re-emerging pathogens and antibiotic resistant microbes, increases in autoimmune diseases and obesity, and cancer. We will focus on a concept that is central to the emerging field of evolutionary medicine, namely mismatch: current lifestyles often differ from the lifestyles in which humans evolved, and this discordance has consequences for human health.

We will address two linked projects over the spring semester 2015 and following summer. First, we will investigate mismatch through broad-scale analyses of infectious and non-infectious diseases at a global scale using informatics approaches and laboratory-based study of human physiology and mechanics, and we will prepare the team for field research in Madagascar. Second, we will collect new data in a global health context for one month in Madagascar, where transitions in diet and behavior are leading to an increase in chronic Western diseases and musculoskeletal injuries and pathologies. Madagascar is important to studying mismatch because the epidemiological transition is rapidly occurring amidst a continuing backdrop of severe infectious disease.

Project Opportunities

We will assemble a team that starts in the classroom, moves to the lab, and then on to the field, as follows:

Phase 1: Through courses taught in Spring and Fall 2014, including Professor Nunn's Global Health course on Human Health in Evolutionary Perspective, we will engage undergraduate students with the concept of evolutionary medicine and global health. In addition, we will identify medical students with an academic interest in evolutionary medicine and global health to become part of the team.

Phase 2: In Spring 2015, we will pursue Project 1 in the lab, specifically by building a database of infectious and non-infectious diseases to investigate epidemiological transitions and mismatch in a lab and field setting. Participants will learn how to develop and execute health questionnaires, collect samples from humans, and other relevant field methods like sampling mosquito vectors. Participants will also learn about musculoskeletal diseases through Schmitt's courses and in the lab and learn how to evaluate musculoskeletal diseases in lab and field settings. The team will consist of two undergraduates, two medical students, and one Ph.D. student with expertise in computational and comparative methods.

Phase 3: In Summer 2015, the undergraduate and medical students will go to Madagascar (with Nunn) for four weeks to investigate infectious and non-infectious diseases. We will sample specific infectious and non-infectious diseases (and disease risks) in a human population around Marojejy National Park.

Project Application Process

Recruitment for this project is now open!! Please click on the link below to access the Bass Connections in Global Health portion of the application process. https://duke.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_4ZKU2PfajWZyJCd

You should also complete the Bass Central application process located here: http://bit.ly/19umGQE

Please include the project title in your email subject line in all communications.

Project Selection Criteria


French is helpful but not required to facilitate the research in Madagascar.

Area of Interest

Students should have an interest in global health or medicine, with significant experience in biology or related areas, such as evolutionary anthropology or biomedical engineering. We will consider students at all levels.

Project Application Deadline


Project Status



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