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Health, ageing and genetic diversity


Admission requirements

This course is part of the minor Human Evolution and registration is restricted to students who followed the preceding courses of this minor.

Contact information

Coordinator: P. van de Vijver


Ageing and disease are both negative traits that could have detrimental effects on an individual. Why would natural selection not act against these traits? Here we answer the questions ‘Why do we age?’ and ‘Why are we susceptible to disease?’, discussing the several evolutionary theories of ageing that have been postulated over the years using the original papers. We look at the epidemiology of ageing in recent history, using evolutionary medicine to differentiate between proximate and ultimate causes of disease. Finally, we address the mismatch between our evolutionary past and modern environment as a cause of the current most frequent diseases. Genetic traits such as haplotypes can help us to reconstruct pathways of human migration, population differentiation and can show us the remarkable unity, as well as diversity, of different ethnic groups. Furthermore, we will learn how other hominins contributed to the gene pool of modern humans.

Learning goals

Course objectives:

At the end of this course, students:

  • know how and understand why the human evolutionary past and present are mismatched.

  • understand why ageing and disease are not distinct phenomena, but are different aspects of the same phenomenon.

  • know how and understand why ageing is a consequence of the abovementioned evolutionary mismatch.

  • know how and understand why the most frequent diseases in our society are a consequence of the abovementioned evolutionary mismatch.

  • have been trained on critically reading and discussing primary literature.

  • have learned to work with public databases containing genome information.

  • know about genetic variation among human populations and its origins.

Final qualifications:

Students will be expected to have gained insights into the interplay of the theory of evolution and processes like ageing and various diseases. They will be able to outline the presence and origins of genetic diversity among human populations. They will be able to critically read and examine scientific publications.


From 11 November 2019 to 27 November 2019. A detailed time table will be published on blackboard.

Mode of instruction

Lectures and practicals. Also, reading textbook and primary literature. Selfstudy.

Assessment method

Multiple choice test for testing theory. Attendance at discussion groups, practical and performance on assignments may be part of the final score.


Will be used for communication and instruction.

Reading list

Compulsory book: R. Boyd & J.B. Silk; How Humans Evolved, 8th edition, 2018; Norton Publishers.
Primary literature t.b.a.


Register for this course via Usis and enroll in Blackboard.

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Prospective students website for information on how to apply.