Anna Di Rienzo, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Human Genetics
University of Chicago
Environmental change is a major feature of human evolution. Humans originated in sub-Saharan Africa and expanded to occupy most of the Earth land mass. Therefore, the history of human dispersal was associated with remarkable environmental challenges to human homeostasis. Though many adaptations to these challenges undoubtedly occurred at the cultural and behavioral levels, the striking variation of human phenotypes suggests that adaptations also involved genetic changes. In her talk, Dr. Di Rienzo will discuss several genomic approaches to elucidating the history of human adaptations with particular emphasis on those that may underlie inter-ethnic variation in the prevalence of common diseases or disease-related phenotypes. This will include the use of recently developed sequencing technologies to make inferences about human dispersal and, hence, provide a historical framework for the adaptive responses to spatially-varying selective pressures. She will then present the results of a new approach for detecting adaptive genetic changes in the human genome that leverages extensive information about human ecology. Finally, Dr. Di Rienzo will briefly review ongoing studies of gene expression in different populations, which aims at understanding the impact of natural selection on complex disease phenotypes with significant inter-ethnic disparities.