So I mentioned that I’m going to start graduate school again. Well, I’m here! I’ve moved to Singapore for at least my first year to attend National University of Singapore (NUS) for a joint PhD program with Imperial College London. That means, I’ll be in London at some point, hopefully at the beginning of 2014.
The lab at NUS that I’ll be a part of is the Ecological Modeling and Economics lab, and at Imperial College London I’ll be at the Centre for Environmental Policy. For my research, I’m hoping to do some work on disease ecology and economics of trade that impact infectious disease emergence.
For my first semester here, I’m going to take a few courses on doing statistics in R, a graduate seminar in the Biological Sciences department, possibly a course at the School of Public Health on the control of communicable diseases. I’m also going to focus on a few courses on Coursera:
The problem with Coursera is that too many of the courses that I’m interested in start all around the same time. It is hard enough to keep up with one course while working or studying full-time, so I’m not sure how if I’m going to succeed or if I’m going to have to give up a course or two and prioritize. I guess this might be because the professors who are doing these courses all go along similar academic calendars and this just seems to work for them this way.
Anyway, I will start posting more regularly again, especially as I start to ramp up reading of journal articles and taking the Coursera classes.
Sometimes, females will sneak off and copulate with males who might have better genes, while their normal mate is a better father (in terms of effort, territory and resources). The theory is that the females do this as a way to potentially increase the quality of her offspring (if some happen to be fathered by the extra male), but retaining the highest quality father. These events are called extra-pair copulations. This has been well studied in bird species.
It has been shown to happen in animals, but what about in humans? There are women who do this, commonly known as cheating, and sometimes even while their normal partner is aware of the extraneous activity. The latter type of case might be super rare, but maybe it is not so rare as we think. Maybe instead of thinking of the extra lover as having better genes, we should think of it as the female being inexplicably attracted to another male but not willing to give up her usual mate. Without getting too deep into the issue of cheating, this post will talk more about the ecological implications for such behavior.
I should also mention that this is bigger picture stuff. In the case of birds, each female bird may not make the decision with an understanding of the potential consequences. But, in the bigger picture her actions may affect her overall fitness and the fitness of her offspring. Fitness is a concept that is often misconstrued in general media. Being more fit does not necessarily mean you are faster or smarter that others in your population. Fitness is literally how many genetic copies of yourself you put out there in the next generation (aka your kids). Traits like speed or smarts can help you survive better to produce more offspring, and that is where they play into fitness. “Survival of the fittest” should be “survival of the genes of the fittest,” but that isn’t quite as catchy.
You might think to yourself that humans don’t think about passing down their genes, but how many people choose to adopt children (who very much need homes) over having their own child who looks like them (if they are able to)? I’m guessing not very many people (and according to Facebook, many of my friends have already birthed mini-versions of themselves) and there is nothing wrong about that. Most evidence of altruism is based on genetic ties, or personal gains in some way, so it would make sense that it wouldn’t be common for someone to adopt a child totally unrelated to themselves. (But thankfully, some people do adopt! Go adoption!)
I don’t want to overemphasize genetics, but it is an important underlying concept. There are definitely cases where women cheat with no genetic benefit at all. In the movie The Other Man (which my friend Chad told me about), the woman had no reason to cheat, and no intention to have more children with her lover. But she does it anyway. There may not be a reason, and perhaps there doesn’t need to be. She chose to do it and she was aware of what she was doing.
But going back to scientific ideas, some questions for further investigation might be:
- how common is this in human populations?
- and what are the benefits to fitness strategy (if any)?
- is it a valid strategy? (i.e. do the offspring end up getting better genes?)
Where do you think this fits into our biology?
Today is the second day of the meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)’s advisory body, the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA), in its 16th meeting (SBSTTA 16). This body makes recommendations for implementation of the Convention.
There is an estimated 600 people here, with delegates and parties representing around 150 – 190 countries, and also attendees representing international organizations like FAO, UNEP, UNDP, DIVERSITAS, and nonprofit organizations in science and technology. It’s a super diplomatic event!
This is the first event I’ve been to where more languages other than English is spoken, and interpreted, for attendees to communicate, make statements and come to decisions. Yes, they have those things you put on your ear to hear the interpretation in real time!
We are here because we have a side event tonight after the working group sessions. The topic is biodiversity and health, with an emphasis on the ecosystem or ecohealth approach to research, policy, and collaboration. We are putting on this side event with DIVERSITAS and the CBD.
The conference is being held at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in Montreal, QC, Canada. The building has many interesting art pieces and historical artifacts. Here is one photo of a cool aviation related thing in the building:
You have 3 weeks to submit your artwork for this contest! Details below:
The academic journal EcoHealth proudly announces our 2nd Biennial International Art Competition. We would like to extend an open invitation to students, graphic artists, and any other interested individuals to participate. Artwork should exemplify the IAEH mission: To strive for sustainable health of people, wildlife, and ecosystems by promoting discovery, understanding, and transdisciplinarity.
The top nominees will be displayed during the biennial EcoHealth 2012 conference in Kunming, China from October 15-18, 2012. The winning artwork will be decided during this event, which will include $1,000 for first prize, $500 and $250 for 2nd and 3rd, and one-year subscriptions to the print-version of the journal EcoHealth. Artwork will be judged upon its relevance to the mission of our organization and winners will have a chance to be featured on the cover of an upcoming issue of EcoHealth.
EcoHealthNet is an awesome program for anyone who is interested in learning more skills to use in the infectious disease research field, or to get involved with some super interesting projects around the work. I was lucky enough to become involved with planning for this program through work, and I also got to participate in our workshop in June (which was held at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, MD)!
This is the group that was at the workshop, including student participants from the Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, China, Ethiopia, Peru, Spain, USA, Vietnam, as well as lecturers from Johns Hopkins, Harvard, University of Wisconsin, and EcoHealth Alliance (where I work!).
So what does infectious disease research mean? This is a cutting-edge field that brings together ecologists, veterinarians, geographers, medical professionals, policy makers, and more. Participants at the workshop learned about disease mapping/spatial analysis and mathematical disease modeling, and people who went on the research exchange contributed to projects like Nipah virus surveillance in Bangladesh to developing primers for avian influenza viruses in China to wildlife surveillance in Brazil to White Nose Syndrome in the United States
The next opportunity to apply for EcoHealthNet 2012 will be this fall. Applications will be accepted starting in October 2011! Check out the website here: http:// www.ecohealthalliance.org/health/29-ecohealthnet