Comparative Anthropogeny and Other Approaches to Human Origins

Friday, November 03, 2023

Biographical Sketches: Co-Chairs

Pascal Gagneux

Pascal Gagneux is a Professor of Pathology and Anthropology at UC San Diego and serves as CARTA's Executive Co-Director. He is interested in the evolutionary mechanisms responsible for generating and maintaining primate molecular diversity. The Gagneux laboratory studies cell-surface molecules in closely related primates species. His focus is on glycans, the oligosaccharides attached to glycolipids and glycoproteins of the surfaces of every cell and also secreted into the extra-cellular matrix. His laboratory is exploring the roles of molecular diversity in protecting populations from pathogens as well as potential consequences for reproductive compatibility. Dr. Gagneux’s interest is in how glycan evolution is shaped by constraints from endogenous biochemistry and exogenous, pathogen-mediated natural selection, but could also have consequences for sexual selection. Dr. Gagneux has studied the behavioral ecology of wild chimpanzees in the Taï Forest, Ivory Coast, population genetics of West African chimpanzees, and differences in sialic acid biology between humans and great apes with special consideration of their differing pathogen regimes.

In 2011, while Associate Director of CARTA, Dr. Gagneux helped to establish a graduate specialization in Anthropogeny at UC San Diego. This wholly unique graduate specialization is offered through eight participating graduate programs in the social and natural sciences at UC San Diego.

Carol Marchetto

Maria Carolina (Carol) Marchetto is an Assistant Professor at the Anthropology Department, UC San Diego, and serves on the CARTA Internal Advisory Board. Dr. Marchetto earned a BSc in Biological Sciences in 1998 and a Ph.D. in Microbiology in 2005 from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Dr. Marchetto moved to San Diego in 2005 for her postdoctoral research in stem cells and neuroscience in the lab of Dr. Fred Gage at the Salk Institute. Prior to her appointment at UC San Diego, Dr. Marchetto was a Staff Scientist at the Laboratory of Genetics at The Salk Institute where she led projects that studied neuronal development using human and nonhuman primate stem cells. Her current work focuses on using patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cells to study the cellular behavior of human neurons in neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopmental conditions such as Autism and Bipolar Disorder. Dr. Marchetto’s work is also focused on human evolution in the context of human brain expansion and neuronal development. Her innovative approach uses stem cell models from human and nonhuman primate species to test hypotheses about the role of disruptions to human-specific cellular and molecular signatures in development and their potential impact on mental health. She is a BRAINS Program Fellow, and her work has received funding from the National Institutes of Mental Health and the Larry L. Hillblom Foundation.

Biographical Sketches: Speakers

Mark Collard

Mark Collard is the Canada Research Chair in Human Evolutionary Studies and a Full Professor in the Department of Archaeology at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada. After the 1987 Black Monday stock market crash put paid to his career as a private client stockbroker in the City of London, Dr. Collard pursued an undergraduate degree in archaeology and prehistory at the University of Sheffield. Subsequently, he completed a PhD in human palaeontology at the University of Liverpool. Since that time, he has taught at universities in the UK, USA, and Canada, and conducted research on a wide range of anthropological topics using the conceptual and analytical tools of evolutionary biology. Among the topics he has worked on are the identification of species in the hominin fossil record; the reconstruction of hominin evolutionary relationships; the estimation of body mass, stature, and age from skeletal material; the processes responsible for the evolution of cultural diversity; the determinants of technological variation among non-industrial populations; and the colonisation of the Americas. Currently, he is interested in the evolution of religion, hunter-gatherer mobility, and evolutionary medicine. In addition, he is conducting archaeological fieldwork in Jordan.

Brenna Henn

Brenna Henn is a population geneticist in the Department of Anthropology and in the Genome Center at the University of California, Davis. She began her research by studying the deep population structure and complex migration patterns of African hunter-gatherer groups. Motivated by her PhD (2009, Stanford University) training in anthropology, she aims to approach questions of genomic and phenotypic diversity from an interdisciplinary standpoint. She continues to primarily focus on African populations. Her field sites include efforts to collect DNA samples, demographic data and biomedical phenotypes in the Kalahari Desert, Cederberg Mountains and the Richtersveld of South Africa, as well as collaborations in Namibia and Ethiopia. The Henn Lab is committed to understanding genetic diversity in under-represented populations. Her long-term objective as an independent investigator is to extend trait mapping and evolutionary genetic techniques to identify loci associated with biomedical traits in diverse populations where collection of large cohort sizes remains challenging.

Mark Moffett

Mark Moffett is a Research Associate at the Smithsonian. During his six years as a visiting scholar at the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard, Mark worked on a synthesis on how societies stay together and fall apart, across species and in humans right up to the present day. His most recent book ties biology with modern psychology and anthropology with surprising insights. The Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive and Fall has been called “a magisterial work of monumental importance” by Scientific American columnist Michael Shermer, while Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired magazine, tells us to “read this manifesto if you like to have your mind changed.”

One of only a handful of people to earn a PhD under E.O. Wilson, Moffett is a modern-day explorer with more than a little luck on his side, having accidentally sat on the world’s deadliest snake, battled drug lords with dart guns, and scrambled up a tree to escape bull elephants. His research has focused on the structure of rainforest canopies, social complexity in ants, and the evolution of societies generally.

Corinna Most

Corinna Most is a faculty member in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology at Iowa State University. She is also the co-Director of the Uaso Ngiro Baboon Project, in Kenya. She received her Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology with a specialization in Anthropogeny from the University of California San Diego in 2018, under the mentorship of Dr. Shirley Strum. Dr. Most's research program involves two main lines of investigation: 1) the ontogeny of social competence in wild olive baboons (Papio anubis), and 2) the long-term effects of ecological changes on wild olive baboons’ behavior and reproductive parameters. More broadly, she is interested in the origins, evolution, and development of social cognition, and her approach is interdisciplinary, combining theories and methods from anthropology, developmental and comparative psychology, and cognitive sciences. Dr. Most's research provides insights into how our social nature, one of the defining traits of our species and indeed our order, arises both phylogenetically and ontogenetically.

Andrew Schork

Andrew Schork is a research leader at the Institute for Biological Psychiatry, Copenhagen University Hospital and an Associate Professor at the GLOBE Institute, Copenhagen University. He is a human geneticist interested in the etiology of complex disease, especially psychiatric disorders. A Schork lab combines Danish national healthcare data and other large biobank resources with tools from quantitative genetics to identify, characterize, and deploy genetic risk factors in service of improving our understanding and treatment of psychiatric disorders. This research works to advance study design, analysis, and methods that can make sense of the especially complex, multifactorial, heterogeneous etiology of psychiatric disorders. In particular, these disorders receive small contributions from thousands of genetic variants (i.e., polygenes) and a key research challenge is modeling their joint effect for predictions, to identify disrupted biological processes, and for evolutionary signatures. Andrew completed his PhD studies at UC San Diego in 2016 with a degree in Cognitive Science with a Specialization in Anthropogeny, where he was an Annette Merle-Smith CARTA Fellow and active member of the CARTA training program. He now lives and works in Copenhagen, having grown his research group thanks to generous funding from Lundbeckfonden.

Tatum Simonson

Tatum Simonson, PhD, is an Associate Professor and the John B. West Endowed Chair in Respiratory Physiology in the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, Sleep Medicine, and Physiology at UC San Diego School of Medicine. Dr. Simonson applies integrative physiological genomics approaches to understand systems-level responses to hypoxia in highland populations. Her research provides evidence for genetic adaptations to high altitude and associations among these factors, molecular functions, and physiological traits. In addition to her research in the highlands of Tibet and Peru, her team studies natural variation in human responses to low oxygen and aims to understand the contributions of genetic and epigenetic factors to variation in hypoxia-related disease states (e.g., altitude illness, sleep apnea, and cardiopulmonary diseases). These and related interdisciplinary efforts are coordinated through the Center for Physiological Genomics of Low Oxygen (CPGLO) at UC San Diego. 

Eva Wittenberg

Eva Wittenberg is an Associate Professor in the Department of Cognitive Science at the Central European University in Vienna, Austria. She received her Ph.D. in Linguistics from Potsdam University (Germany), and her postdoctoral training at UC San Diego, where she also held a faculty position before moving to CEU. The aim of Eva's research is to understand the architecture of the language system within broader cognition, asking fundamental questions about the interaction of grammar, meaning, and broader cognitive processes. This includes how linguistic structure maps onto conceptual structure, and, most relevant to this symposium, how this mapping came to be.