Science on Tap talk will delve into the mystery behind menstruation

July 25, 2014  

Elizabeth Rowe

Elizabeth Rowe 
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Visiting anthropology professor Elizabeth Rowe will headline Purdue University's Science on Tap this month with a talk on the evolution of menstruation and how this biological process may be related to unique features of our species.

The informal talk, titled "How Menstruation Evolved, and Why You Should Care," is at 6 p.m. Thursday (July 31) upstairs at the Lafayette Brewing Company, 622 Main St., Lafayette. The lecture, which is free and open to those 21 and older, is sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts, Department of Anthropology and Discovery Park.

"Menstruation is a salient feature of women's biology that humans do not share with most other animals," said Rowe, whose research focuses on understanding how complex interactions between genes and women's life histories shape their reproductive health. "The fact that women jettison otherwise useful tissue seems wasteful. So why do we do it?"

Right now there exists a number of claims as to why humans menstruate while most mammals do not, said Rowe, whose research focuses on understanding how complex interactions between genes and women's life histories shape their reproductive health. Some claim the phenomenon has to do with hyper inflammation and oxidative stress associated with deep placentation in humans.

Other theories suggest it relates to energy conservation, and still others propose that menstruation occurs to protect the uterus against colonization by pathogens transported by sperm. Rowe said her talk "will explore the current state of research on the evolution of menstruation," and delve into the possible reasons for this occurrence in the human reproductive system.

Rowe received her master's and doctorate degrees in anthropology from Temple University and holds a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Emory University.

Her work is the first to demonstrate that endometrial growth in healthy women is affected by interactions between the progesterone receptor gene and women's body measurements, as published in a study Rowe conducted with Toby Eisenstein, Joseph Meissler and Christie Rockwell, who was Rowe's dissertation adviser. Rowe has co-authored works with faculty from Temple University, Central Washington University, the University of Maryland, Howard University and others.

Science on Tap, led by graduate students David Welkie, Anju Karki and Nelda Vazquez, provides Purdue faculty and collaborating scientists the opportunity to share research activities in an informal setting with presentations that are designed to appeal to a more general audience. Attendance at the monthly event has averaged 80 during the program's first four years. 

Writers: Anna Schultz, 812-447-5229,

Phillip Fiorini, 765-496-3133, 

Sources:  Elizabeth Rowe, 765-496-7400,

David Welkie, 765-494-0455,

Nelda Vazquez, 765-496-1487,

Anju Karki, 765-494-0455,

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