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Evolutionary Medicine

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Team Leader : T. Letellier

Evolutionary medicine is the application of modern evolutionary theory to the understanding of functional changes in humans during the development and expression of a disease. This theory provides a complementary approach for studying the physiopathological mechanisms of disease emergence and evolution. Evolutionary medicine proposes that some current pathologies (in particular those concerning metabolism) could result from the incompatibilities between ancient living conditions, in which evolutionary pressures modified our genetic heritage, and our way of living today. Indeed, our physiology is the result of a long adaptation process to our environment. One of the evolutionary traits reflecting this adaptation is the conservation of polymorphisms in our genome, which have accumulated over several millions of years.

Our interdisciplinary team of anthropologists, biochemists, geneticists and bioinformatics scientists aims to study disease from a biological and medical point of view, combined with approaches from evolutionary biology and population settlement.

Our project is based on the study of human populations taking into account their genetic and physiological diversities, as well as their different lifestyles. In this context, we focus on three topics :

1 – Genetic and biological diversity of populations. The objective of this project is to study the genetic and biological diversity of contemporary human populations, and to understand the roles migration and population admixture have played in the emergence of genetic and phenotypic characteristics.
2 – Evolutionary and adaptive history of populations. It is well-documented that human populations have adapted culturally, as well as genetically, when confronted with new environments. We aim to understand how the past adaptations of the first human populations could have affected contemporary humans.
3 – Epidemiology and etiology of disease. This project focuses on the molecular and biochemical mechanisms involved in mitochondrial cytopathies, including the influence of mitochondrial genetic backgrounds on the phenotypic expression of mitochondrial pathologies.

The project investigates the interactions between polymorphisms and metabolism, the environment and population lifestyles. It includes several fieldwork studies in which each team member has an expertise and an established scientific network (particularly in Indian Ocean). Together, the studies have generated a unique database which includes data from genetics to linguistics, to information on complex socio-ecological interactions, and molecular epidemiology (disease immunogenetics and mitochondrial pathologies).