Summer 2019 - HSCI 216 D100

Ecological Determinants of Human Growth, Development and Health (3)

Class Number: 2596

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Mo, We 2:30 PM – 5:20 PM
    SSCB 9201, Burnaby

  • Instructor:

    Pablo Nepomnaschy
    1 778 782-8493
  • Prerequisites:

    HSCI 100 or BISC 101.



Effects that social and ecological factors have on human growth, development and health. Challenges such as epidemics, natural catastrophes, industrialization, globalization, migration, poverty, war, global warming, etc, leading to evolution and adaptations. Relationships between socio-ecological challenges, their health consequences and related gene-population variations and effects on growth, development, sexual maturation, reproductive investment, and senescence and health.


COURSE DESCRIPTION:   This course examines the effects that social and ecological factors have on human growth, development and health. Did epidemics, natural catastrophes, industrialization, poverty, war, etc, play a role in determining how our body works today? If so, what phenotypic traits have they shaped? Why would it be important to understand the evolutionary history of the human body? Would understanding the selective forces of the past help us be healthy in the present? This course explores the links between social and ecological selective pressures of our past, evolution (changes in allele frequencies) and adaptations (modifications in the dynamic interaction between genotype, epigenotype, environment and the resulting phenotype) to modern challenges. Comparing populations exposed to a variety of social and ecological environments we will investigate how everyday modern challenges can affect growth, development, sexual maturation, reproductive investment, and senescence and health.


Upon completion of the course, students will be able to:
•     Understand the basic biological principles that underlie human life history
•     Analyze basic interactions between genotype, environment and the phenotype
•     Understand how and ecological (i.e.: social and physical) challenges can affect life history patterns and impact health and well-being
•     Evaluate the role that evolutionary theory could play in medicine and public health  

Core Competencies for the BA and BSc Programs addressed in this course include:

  • Core Concepts in Population and Public Health (primary) 
  • Strategies for Preventing Disease and Promoting Health (reinforcing)
  • Measuring Health and Disease (reinforcing)
  • Systems and critical thinking (reinforcing)  


  • Examination #1 25%
  • Examination #2 25%
  • Participation in Tutorials 15%
  • Group Presentations in Tutorials 10%
  • Term Paper 25%
  • “Bonus points”: Comments, questions, and even mistakes during lectures that reflect that a student is seriously engaging with a subject are rewarded with bonus points at the Lecturer’s discretion. This exercise is aimed at promoting interactions between the students and the lecturer and to help students formalize their understanding of the material being conveyed. I strongly encourage you to use this exercise to overcome fears of speaking in public.


NOTE 1: There is no final exam in this course    
NOTE 2: The median course grade will likely be in the B range. The FHS Grading Guidelines state that lower division (100-200 level) courses usually have no more than 5% A+s. Professors are asked to comply with those guidelines and courses like this one, with large number of students, tend to naturally present that pattern. The instructor may make changes to this syllabus if necessary, within Faculty/University regulations. This includes the possibility of scaling final grades, if they are too high or too low, to meet FHS grading guidelines.  
Participation in tutorial: Students participation (attendance, knowledge of the materials, engagement in discussions, etc.) during tutorials will be evaluated by each TA.  
Group presentations tutorials: Students will present in groups specific papers of the course package. TAs will evaluate presentations based on the accuracy of the review, its overall clarity, succinctness, quality of delivery and effort put forth in summarizing, analyzing and critiquing the paper (students don’t have to agree with the authors but they have to demonstrate they understand the argument made by them). See Group presentation guidelines and marking scheme on Canvas for details.    
Term paper: Students will write a research term paper (TP) on one of the topics covered in this course. This paper shall not be longer than 5 double-spaced pages (single sided, not including references and title page). It is recommended that students first write an outline, then a draft for exchanging with classmates for review and editing before preparing a final copy for grading purposes. Students have the opportunity to submit one (1) draft to their TA to receive feedback. Submitting this draft is optional (i.e.: no bonus marks will be given or taken for submitting or not a draft). The final version of the TP is due on Friday November 14th Students who wish to receive feedback should submit their drafts to their TAs no later than November 1st. The final grade of the TP will be based on the quality of the final paper, including the accuracy of the literature review, its overall clarity, structure, succinctness and the quality of analysis (see TP Guideline and Rubric on Canvas).  
Bonus points: Comments, questions, and even mistakes during lectures that reflect that a student is seriously engaging with a subject are rewarded with bonus points at the Lecturer’s discretion. This exercise is aimed at promoting interactions between the students and the lecturer and to help students formalize their understanding of the material being conveyed. I strongly encourage you to use this exercise to overcome fears of speaking in public.  

The lecturer, instructors and students are all expected to be passionate about wanting to transmit and receive knowledge. Life is too short to engage in activities that bore you. All lectures and tutorials will include a 5-10 minute Q&A section. Asking well thought questions denotes interest in a subject. There is no learning without asking. In a classroom, “mistakes are not important, understanding is” (A. Shine). If we (professors or TA’s) do not know the answer to your question we (you and us…yes, you too) will research it, confer, and then share the gained knowledge with the rest of the class. Exam make ups will be granted only once per term per student and only in the case of a personal emergency (i.e. the student will have to provide a legal document to certify the emergency). Exceptions will be made only under the rules and regulations of SFU-FHS guidelines. Pagers, cell phones, carrot munching, or anything else that you do that (within reasonable limits) affects other students’ abilities to focus in the class will earn you a kind invitation to leave the classroom.
Cheating is considered the lowest possible academic behaviour. SFU’s Guidelines for Student Conduct state that “ALL acts of intellectual dishonesty are subject to disciplinary action by the University.” The Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) adheres to SFU policies regarding academic dishonesty. These include having a report submitted for every case to the Academic Integrity Advisor of FHS and SFU. Students should read SFU's general policy on academic dishonesty at: or on page 36 of the 2008-9 SFU Calendar. Students are responsible for knowing what plagiarism is, as explained in this tutorial: SFU advocates a zero tolerance policy for academic dishonesty. If you are caught cheating (e.g., looking at someone else’s paper or engaging in electronic communication during an exam; plagiarizing), my policy is to assign you zero points for that assignment. If a student cheats or plagiarizes, the instructor will recommend to the chair that he/she get a failing grade for the course, and may recommend a formal reprimand and possible referral to the University Board on Student Discipline for potential suspension from the university. If you find for whatever reason that you are tempted to plagiarize or otherwise cheat, don’t do it! Instead, get help. If you find yourself overly challenged or overwhelmed – as can happen to anyone -- SFU has resources to help. Instructors and TA’s hold office hours in which they can assist you with your work. SFU’s Academic Advice Centre has drop-in hours. Seek out SFU’s resources to help you.  

  Students who need an alternate due date for an assignment or must miss a class or exam in order to observe a holy day for their religion must send your TA and me a written request for accommodation during the first week of classes. If you know you are going to be away for an exam, contact me about it as early as possible. If you miss an exam, you can expect to receive an alternative exam or I may give you an oral exam. If you are late with an assignment or absent due to a medical reason, you will not ordinarily be penalized if you bring a signed note on letterhead paper from a physician. If there is a family problem that you must attend to, I require a written explanation of the reason for your absence, and some means of verification. Timely, professional communication and follow-through are expected. It is your responsibility to keep me posted. Please see TP Guidelines for consequences to missing a deadline without proper justification.


PREREQUISITES   HSCI 100 or BISC 101. These pre-requisites will not be waved.



REQUIRED TEXTS   There is no textbook available for this course. It is based entirely on journal articles and book chapters. Articles available online or digitally are posted in Canvas. Slides of the lectures will be available after the day the lecture takes place. PLEASE, do not ask for them before hand. Slides are not ready before I deliver them.


This is a draft of the Readings Schedule. An updated list of the readings will be made available on a date closer to the beginning of the course. All of the articles will be available online or will be digitally are posted in Canvas.

Readings Schedule  

Class 1: Evolution and Health  

Williams GC and Nesse R (1991) The dawn of Darwinian medicine. Quarterly Review of Biology 66:1-22.  
Nesse R. "Evolution: Medicine's Missing Basic Science”  

Armelagos, GJ; Brown, PJ and Turner, B (2005) Evolutionary, historical and political economic perspectives on health and disease. Soc Sci Med 61(4):755-65.  
Weinstock, JV, Summers, WR; Elliott, DE; Qadir, K; Urban, Jr JF; and Thompson, R (2002) The possible link between de-worming and the emergence of immunological disease. J Lab Clin Med 139(6):334-338.  
Ellison PT, Jasienska G. (2007) Constraint, pathology, and adaptation: how can we tell them apart? Am J Hum Biol. 19(5):622-30.

Class 2: Genetics a review  

A. Genetics and Evolutionary Theory:   Gluckman P., Beedle A, Hanson M 2009. Evolutionary Theory Principles of Evolutionary Medicine Oxford University Press, pp 21-49  
B. Genetic structure of human populations:   Gluckman P., Beedle A, Hanson M 2009. The Molecular Basis of Variance and Inheritance Principles of Evolutionary Medicine. Oxford University Press, pp 49-77  

Quantitative variation and human genetics: Anonymous (1996) How heritability misleads about race. The Boston Review (6) 30-35.  

Class 3: Human Life History
Required Marlowe, F (2000) The Patriarch Hypothesis. Human Nature 11(1):27-42.   Kaplan H, Lancaster J, and Robson A (2003)
Embodied Capital and the Evolutionary Economics Of the Human Lifespan. In JR Carey and S Tuljapakur (eds.): Lifespan: Evolutionary, Ecological and Demographic Perspectives, pp. 152-182. 
Hawkes, K.; Blurton Jones, N (2005) Human Age Structures, Paleodemography, and the Grandmother Hypothesis. In E Voland, A Chasiotis, and W Schiefnhovel (eds.) Grandmotherhood: The Evolutionary Significance of the Second Half of Female Life, Rutgers University Press, pp. 118-120. (*Note: only the first 2 pages are required)  

Kaplan, H., Gurven, M., Winking, J., Hooper, P. & Stieglitz, J. (2010). Learning, menopause, and the human adaptive complex. Annuals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1204, 30-42  

Class 4: Ecology and Demography  
Required   Ehrlich & H. Ehrlich (2008) The ups and downs of populations (Chapter 7) The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment. Island Press.  
Low (2001) Wealth, Fertility and the Environment in Future tense (Chapter 15) Why Sex Matters: A Darwinian Look at Human Behavior. Princeton.

Class 5: Victoria's Day

Class 6: I Midterm Exam

Class 7: Evolution and Epidemiology

  Galvani AP. Epidemiology meets evolutionary ecology. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 18 (3)132-139  
Optional Morse, S. (1995). Factors in the emergence of infectious diseases. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 1, 7-15

Class 8: Ecology of Reproduction I  

Required   Jasienska G, Ellison PT. (2004) Energetic factors and seasonal changes in ovarian function in women from rural Poland. Am J Hum Biol.(5):563-80.
Valeggia C, Ellison PT. (2009) Interactions between metabolic and reproductive functions in the resumption of postpartum fecundity. Am J Hum Biol. 21(4):559-66.  

Class 9: Ecology of Reproduction II  

Required   Nepomnaschy PA et al (2004) Nepomnaschy PA, McConnell D, Welch K, Strassmann BI and England BG. (2004) Stress and Female Reproductive Function: A study of daily variations in cortisol, gonadotrophins, and gonadal steroids in a Rural Mayan Population. Amer J of Hum Biol 16:533-543  
Nepomnaschy PA, et al. (2006) Cortisol levels and very early pregnancy loss in humans. PNAS 103(10): 3938-3942.  

Optional   Nepomnaschy PA, et al (2007) Stress, immune function and women's reproduction in Stress Responses in Biology and Medicine; Ann. NY. Acad. Sci. 1113: 350-354  
Joffe M. (2009) What has happened to human fertility? Hum Reprod  

Class 10: Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD)   
Required   Barker DJB, ed. (1992) Fetal and infant origins of adult disease. London: BMJ Publishing Group,.  
Ellison PT. 2005 Evolutionary perspectives on the fetal origins hypothesis.Am J Hum Biol. 17(1):113-8.   
Optional   Jasienska G, et al. (2006) Fatness at birth predicts adult susceptibility to ovarian suppression: an empirical test of the Predictive Adaptive Response hypothesis. PNAS 103(34):12759-62  
Ben-Shlomo Y, Davey Smith G. (1991) Deprivation in infancy or in adult life: which is more important for mortality risk? Lancet 337:530-4.   
Huxley, R., et al. (2007). Is birth weight a risk factor for ischemic heart disease in later life? Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 85: 1244-1250.  

Class 10: Growth and development  
Required   A. Growth in infancy and childhood:   McDade, TW; Rutherford J, Adair L, et al. (2010) Early origins of inflammation: microbial exposures in infancy predict lower levels of C-reactive protein in adulthood. Proc. R. Soc. B 2277(1684):1129-1137  
B. Growth in Adolescence. Puberty. Endocrinology of Growth:   Ellison, P.T. (1982) Skeletal growth, fatness, and menarcheal age: A comparison of two hypotheses. Hum. Biol. 54:269-28.
Campbell, B.C., Leslie, P.W., Little, M.A., and Campbell, K.L. (2005) Pubertal timing, hormones, and body composition among adolescent Turkana males. Am J Phys Anthropol. 28(4):896-905.  

Optional   Essex MJ, Boyce WT, Hertzman C, Lam LL, Armstrong JM, et al. (2011) Epigenetic vestiges of early developmental adversity: Childhood stress exposure and DNA methylation in adolescence. Child Development.   Oxford University Press, New York.
Bailey, RC (1991) The comparative growth of Efe pygmies and African farmers from birth to age 5 years. Ann. Hum. Biol. 18:113-120.

Class 12: Biological embedding of Social exposures  

Hertzman C Biological (2012) Embedding of Early Social Adversity: From Fruit Flies to Kindergartners Putting the concept of biological embedding in historical perspective. PNAS 109 (Supplement 2) 17160-17167.
Boyce WT, Sokolowski MB and Robinson Gene E. (2012) Toward a new biology of social adversity. PNAS 109 (Supplement 2) 17143-17148

Gregory E. Miller GE; Chen E, Fok AK, Walker H, Lim A; Nicholls EF; Cole S and Kobor MS (2009) Low early-life social class leaves a biological residue manifested by decreased glucocorticoid and increased proinflammatory signaling PNAS 106 (34) 14716-14721.

Class 12: Adaptations to environmental constraints  

Required   Bogin B & Rios L (2003) Rapid morphological change in living humans: implications for modern human origins. Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol 136(1):71-84.  
Ulijaszek, SJ (2002) Human eating behaviour in an evolutionary ecological context. Proc Nutr Soc 61(4):517-26  
Optional   Cordain L, Eaton SB, Sebastian A, Mann N, Lindeberg S, Watkins BA, O'Keefe JH, Brand-Miller J. (2005) Origins and evolution of the Western diet: Health implications for the 21st Century. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 81(2): 341-354.  
Gordon-Larsen, P., Zemel, BS, and Johnston, FE (1997) Secular change in stature, weight, fatness, overweight, and obesity in urban African-American adolescents from the mid-1950s to the mid-1990’s. Am J Hum Biol 675-688.  

Class 13: Exam


Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University.