Dr. Magdalena Hurtado


Magdalena Hurtado is known for theoretical and empirical research on the evolutionary origins of the sexual division of labor, human life history traits including menopause, paternal investment, infectious disease patterns among tribal populations, and the emergence of modern diseases such as childhood asthma. Especially known for empirical work on women in remote hunter-gatherer populations and co-authored book Ache Life History. Most recently, worked on the evolutionary emergence of cooperative public health behaviors as a key human adaptation. First to use indifference curve models to describe the tradeoffs that women face between childcare and subsistence work and to show with field data from hunter-gatherers that in our species women’s subsistence activities are probably always constrained by the age and number of their offspring and the productivity of their husbands. Described detailed age specific infection patterns of a tuberculosis epidemic in a group of hunter-gatherers, with extremely high prevalence, who had never been exposed to this mycobacterium, and published a review of South American indigenous health research with an emphasis on the high susceptibility to infectious diseases such as helminthiasis, hepatitis A-E, and HTLY-I and II. Published data on the prevalence of asthma among different Hispanic subgroups in the United States, and developed a biocultural hypothesis to account for these differences, as well as a theory of mast-cell saturation and Th2 dominance that helps explain the emergence of asthma in modern populations. Work has expanded to Panamanian populations to study the origins of public health using models in evolutionary social psychology. Basic science research dovetails applied work in the areas of health and conservation. Advocate for increased public health services aimed at disadvantaged native populations. Designed and implemented grassroots health care worker and conservation programs that resulted in rapid declines in rates of preventable deaths and land titles to ancestral territories in native communities of Paraguay and Venezuela.


HBES 2021 Plenary Address:

The Human Colony: Origins and Function

The “Human Colony” is a term I use to refer to the universal blueprint of the inputs, flows, and outputs of the built environments that humans invent. The Human Colony’s blueprint is universal and adaptable, taking on different dynamics as it changed the very conditions it started from 100,000 years ago in Africa, and as it adapted to the conditions it created anew since that time. The blueprint consists of observable physical and behavioral extensions of fertility- and survival-work modules and the tacit rules that produce them. These tacit rules give life to the Human Colony, but what are they, and what function do they serve? There are more rules than we can ever know, so I looked for the essential few. They are divisions of labor working together in different sub-systems of the Colony. Susceptibility-based divisions of labor dictate individuals’ fertility and survival work schedules. Divisions of labor within and between pathways of the human immunological and central nervous systems dictate without conscious perception the allocation of energy into somatic growth, somatic maintenance, reproduction, and social capital. Taken together, the Human Colony’s blueprint and tacit rules serve one function: to improve human population health through horizontal and vertical replication of its sub-systems. The most important implication of the Human Colony paradigm for the 21st Century is that the production of population health is the centerpiece of our species’ natural history and expansion. Ignoring this conclusion, if accurate, while increasing our reliance on artificial intelligence within the narrow scope of public health disciplines may stymie the hope of a better life for all