Thursday, February 7, 2019
Title: Detecting ancient epidemics in human evolution
Abstract: In the past decade, population genetics research has undergone a remarkable paradigm shift as Kimura’s classic “neutral theory of molecular evolution” has been swept aside in light of new research that finds that adaptation is pervasive across animal genomes. The magnitude of this revelation has made clear that population geneticists know very little about the selective pressures in the environment that have been powerful enough to drive staggering levels of adaptation at the genomic level. My work examines the intersection of quantitative evolutionary genomics and environmental and ecological contexts to give a broader understanding to the recent developments in the field. My research is articulated around two main axes: (I) the development of novel population genetics methods to quantify adaptation genome-wide and (II) the identification of the ecological causes of adaptation, with a particular focus on ancient epidemics. In my talk, I will show how abundant signals of adaptation in human genomes can be harnessed to study ancient epidemics where specific human host populations harbor the genomic footprints of ancient arms races with specific pathogens. I will also present how the approach I have developed to quantify ancient epidemics in human evolution can be used more broadly to study diverse selective pressures in the context of ecological genomics.