Unearthing how intermixing has driven adaption in human populations

Theme: Evolution & Adaptation

Primary Supervisor:

Garrett Hellenthal

Genetics, Evolution and Environment, UCL

Garrett Hellenthal's Profile Picture

Secondary Supervisor:

Aida Andres

Genetics, Evolution and Environment, UCL

Aida Andres's Profile Picture

Project Description:

Various human groups worldwide were previously isolated from one another for millennia, over time changing bits of their genomes to enable survival to the pathogens and climates of their unique habitats. However, recently these groups have been intermixing extensively. This PhD will leverage massive new datasets of mixed ancestry people to determine the role that intermixing has played in distributing adaptive genetic variants among populations, including whether some variants show evidence of having harmful effects (e.g. on present-day health) in their new environments. To enable this work, the student will apply powerful new statistical methods, developed by the supervisors, to data including >400,000 British genomes from UKBiobank, >3,000 newly obtained African genomes, and >10,000 unpublished genomes from Japan, Papua New Guinea and the Gambia.

Specific analyses will be decided by the student. Opportunities include (1) exploring adaptation signals in >60 ethnolinguistic groups in Ethiopia, (2) tracking adaptations in Bantu speaking peoples as they migrated throughout east and south Africa from (present-day) Cameroon 4-5K years ago, (3) unearthing adaptive variants carried by 5-6th century Anglo-Saxon and 9-10th century Norse Viking migrants to Britain, (4) exploring evolution occurring before and after modern humans intermixed with archaic humans (Neanderthals, Denisovans) and (5) the interplay of genetics and epigenetics on adaptation in the Gambia.

Your NERC funds will be used to travel to visit collaborators in Cameroon, Ethiopia and Japan, to exchange ideas and develop future research opportunities. In Africa, this includes capacity building through training African scientists on analysing and interpreting genetic data.

Policy Impact of Research:

This project will pinpoint genetic variants that enabled our ancestors’ survival and likely play a key role in influencing human health today. Furthermore, as this project analyses African genomes, we will work with our collaborators in Cameroon and Ethiopia to feed back knowledge, exchange ideas, and capacity-build for future projects.

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