Martina Spaeni Lima

Recent anthropogenic activities, industrialization and a modern life style have subjected humans to environmental conditions, which are distinct from ancestral conditions. What are the implications of global change on human health and modern chronic diseases? What is the role of contemporary evolution within this issue?

As a biologist trained in ecology, I tend to contextualize all topics in biology within an evolutionary framework and strive to see the bigger picture. Health-related topics are no exception in this regard. I believe that, while reductionist approaches provide a wealth of insight into biological systems, expanding perspectives by integrating concepts in an interdisciplinary way is fundamental to better understand health and chronic inflammatory diseases.

Due to my inherent care for environmental health and fascination for evolutionary processes I have always been interested in the ability of organisms to respond and adapt to anthropogenic environmental changes. However, due to a personal experience in 2014, my interest focus shifted from how humans impact ecological integrity, to how ecological integrity impacts humans: after being diagnosed with an autoimmune-related disease, against all predictions and odds, I quickly and sustainably recovered from the condition following complex lifestyle changes. The treatment approach, which in its core can be described as “ancestral niche reconstruction”, aims to imitate ancestral environmental conditions to support the ecological and functional integrity of the body. This experience, in addition to other similar cases and anecdotal evidence, has awakened my passion for the self-regenerative capacity of the body and reprogramming processes of cells: what is the role of phenotypic plasticity – the ability of an individual (a genotype) to exhibit varying phenotypes under different environmental inputs and conditions – in chronic inflammatory diseases?

In particular, my central questions circle around the following topics:

Anthropogenic environmental changes, contemporary human evolution and chronic modern health problems:

Modern environmental conditions and lifestyle have drastically re-shaped the lifetime exposome of humans i.e. through pollution, changes in food habits, food quality and toxin exposures. Key questions concerning global change and health within an evolutionary approach, may address the potential of anthropogenic environmental changes to act as contemporary selective forces (i.e. toxic pressure): to what extent do modern conditions result in genetic maladaptation and maladaptive epigenetic patterns and affect the integrity of biological functions? What is the role of such dynamics in modern chronic health problems?

Reversibility of epigenetic maladaptive patterns and regenerative potential of the body in chronic diseases:

Epigenetic flexibility, as an underlying mechanism of phenotypic plasticity, enables organisms to respond to changing environmental cues. To what extent can we observe phenotypic plasticity in chronic health conditions under different environmental settings? What is the role of epigenetic flexibility in reversing maladaptive patterns, which arise from modern environmental impacts?

With those questions and aspects I ultimately aim to encourage research approaches investigating regenerative responses of the human body to „restorative” environmental settings, which consider the evolutionary background of humans (i.e. complex lifestyle changes and reduced exposure to modern life toxins).

Besides conceptual and theoretical writing my current work includes independent health counseling and the planning of experimental data collection.

Counseling homepage

To contact Martina email: