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Event Detail (Archived)

Can Ancient DNA Reveal What Makes Us Human?

The Fairfield Osborn Memorial Lecture

Event Details

Friday Lecture Series
Beth Shapiro, D.Phil, professor, department of ecology and evolutionary biology, associate director, UCSC Genomics Institute, University of California, Santa Cruz; professor and investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

DNA recovered from remains of organisms that used to be alive provides a window into evolutionary history. Within the last decade, technological advances in the recovery of ancient DNA have made it possible to assemble high quality complete genomes from ancient remains. Among the most revelatory of these have been genomes of our extinct cousins, Neanderthals and Denisovans. By comparing these archaic genomes to the genomes of anatomically modern humans, we are refining our understanding of our own evolutionary history. Dr. Shapiro will discuss new results in which her lab maps segments of archaic ancestry across a panel of 279 modern human genomes from the Simons Genome Diversity Panel. They identify high-frequency Neanderthal and Denisovan variants in all modern humans including sub-Saharan Africans, a group thought previously not to have archaic ancestry. Her lab also finds that only around 10% of the genome is completely sorted between modern and archaic lineages, implying that this tiny fraction of the genome alone makes modern humans distinct. Intriguingly, these regions are enriched for genes, particularly those related to brain development and function. Drawing from experimental data, Dr. Shapiro will discuss how these genes may have played a role in the evolution of the modern human lineage.

Beth Shapiro is an evolutionary biologist who specializes in the genetics of ice age animals and plants. As Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UC Santa Cruz and HHMI Investigator, Beth uses DNA recovered from bones and other remains to study how species evolved through time and how human activities have affected and continue to affect this dynamic process. Her work focuses on organisms ranging from influenza to mammoths, asking questions about domestication, admixture, speciation, and pathogen evolution. Her current work develops techniques to recover increasingly trace amounts of DNA such as from environmental and forensic samples. A 2009 MacArthur Fellow, Beth is also an award-winning popular science author and communicator who uses her research as a platform to explore the potential of genomic technologies for conservation and medicine.

Justin Sloboda
(212) 327-7785
Open to
Daniel Kronauer
Refreshments, 3:15 p.m. - 3:45 p.m., Abby Lounge
Justin Sloboda
(212) 327-7785

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