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Gabrielle DeMarco Rensselaer Polytechnic University

This Behind the Scenes article was provided to LiveScience in partnership with the National Science Foundation.

Imagine being adopted, with no understanding of your cultural or genetic background. You don't know your heritage or what diseases you are genetically predisposed to. Most of us have some idea about the roots of our family tree, but little understanding of what those lower branches mean in terms of our predisposition to a host of diseases and ailments.

Now, a group of computer scientists, mathematicians, and biologists from around the world have developed a computer algorithm that can quickly trace an individual's genetic ancestry with only a small sample of their DNA. In fact, the program can trace the genetic ancestry of thousands of individuals in minutes, without any prior knowledge of their background.

The multi-disciplinary approach, published in the September 2007 edition of the journal PLoS Genetics, allowed the research team to address this type of research in a novel way. Unlike previous computer programs that required prior knowledge of an individual's ancestry and background, the new algorithm looks for specific DNA markers known as single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs (pronounced snips), and needs nothing more than a DNA sample in the form of a simple cheek swab.

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11th-Dec-2007 09:49 pm - Human evolution is 'speeding up'
Humans have moved into the evolutionary fast lane and are becoming increasing different, a genetic study suggests.

In the past 5,000 years, genetic change has occurred at a rate roughly 100 times higher than any other period, say scientists in the US.

This is in contrast with the widely-held belief that recent human evolution has halted.

The research has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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A US genetic study bolsters claims that Native Americans are descended from one migrant group that crossed a lost land link from modern Siberia to Alaska -- not waves of arrivals from Asia, as rival theories say.

The new study by the University of Michigan, published Monday, examined genes of indigenous people from North to South America and from two Siberian groups, the university said in a report introducing the research.

Analysis found one unique genetic variant widespread across both the northern and southern American continents -- suggesting that all Native Americans were descended from a single group, not various ones as the rival theory holds.

This variant "has not been found in genetic studies of people elsewhere in the world except eastern Siberia," the report said.

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10th-Jul-2007 10:08 am - BBC delves into Brazilians' roots
By Silvia Salek BBC Brasil

Neguinho da Beija-Flor's stage-name indicates his skin colour; in Portuguese, Neguinho means Little Black.

In this year's Rio Carnival competition, he sang a song celebrating Brazil's African roots in a performance that won his samba school the title.

But having learned to be proud of his African ancestry, he was shocked to find out that about 67% of his genes are European and only 31% African, according to an estimate based on an analysis of his DNA.

"People will think I'm joking if I tell them this", said the singer, who knew very little about his African ancestors but nothing at all about his European ones.

Neguinho da Beija-Flor was among nine celebrities who were tested for a project, called Afro-Brazilian Roots, by the Brazilian Service of the BBC.

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By HELEN O'NEILL, AP Special Correspondent

Across the moonless dark of Lancaster County, where horse-drawn buggies clatter along dusty country roads and many families shun electricity, a strange blue light cuts harshly through the night.

Over the cornfields it beckons, like some otherworldly force, beaming from the bedroom window of a 100-year-old Mennonite farmhouse.

Downstairs, flaxen-haired girls with braids read to younger children ... a mother in a traditional long print dress and white organdy cap rocks a slumbering child ... a father returning from the fields pulls up a chair to the coal-fired stove.

The scene is bathed in the glow of a single gas lamp.

Upstairs, a baby sleeps in another kind of light, in a very different world.

High-intensity blue electric rays burn down upon his crib, creating an iridescent haze that envelops the room. The lights are suspended from a heavy stainless steel canopy just inches above the child.

The baby wears only a diaper and has no blankets, just starched white sheets. Mirrors are built into one side of the crib. Fans hum loudly to keep him cool.

With his chubby cheeks and bleached blonde hair, 15-month old Bryan Martin looks like an angel in his luminous cocoon.

But Bryan is a very sick child.

The whites of his eyes are yellow and his skin is an unnatural gold.

The blue lights are saving his life.

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SPN - Ruby's French Fry
Face it, there's only so much research you can do before you crack. Once you hit that point, you can either laugh or cry, or in this case make everybody else laugh.

Evolutionary Relationships Among Cheeses by Benjamin M. WaggnerCollapse )
wild girl
The relatively recent post on race and biology here made me want to post this essay (supposed to be a "mission statement") I wrote concluding a graduate physical anthropology course on Constructions of Race in Physical Anthropology and Biology in December. It's a little long, but there are really good references at the end for anyone interested in exploring the concept further. If anyone is interested in any particular article and doesn't have access, I can see if I can get them for you.

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Humans first moved out of Africa about 70,000 years ago, but 30,000 years later some of them moved back.

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For many adults in the world, the phrase "got milk?" is quickly followed by "got a nearby toilet?" Lactose, the primary sugar in milk, is a universal favorite in infancy but into adulthood the level of lactase-phlorizin hydrolase, the enzyme that metabolizes lactose in the small intestine, decreases and digestion of dairy products becomes difficult. In some populations, however, such as those located in northern Europe, the ability to digest milk remains most likely as a result of lifestyles based around cattle domestication. In 2002 Finnish scientists localized the genetic mutation that conferred this trait in northern Europeans to two regions on chromosome 2.

Now, the results of a four-year, international research project find that communities in East Africa leading traditionally similar pastoral lives evolved their ability to drink milk rapidly and independently of the northern Europeans. According to University of Maryland biologist Sarah Tishkoff, the lead author of a study appearing in today's Nature Genetics, the mutation allowing them to "get milk" arose so quickly and was so advantageous that "it is basically the strongest signal of selection ever observed in any genome, in any study, in any population in the world."

Original article or.. more behind the cutCollapse )
23rd-Nov-2006 08:59 am - Humans show major DNA differences
Scientists have shown that our genetic code varies between individuals far more than was previously thought.

A US-led team made a detailed analysis of the DNA found in 270 people and identified vast stretches in their codes to be duplicated or even missing.

Original article or.. click hereCollapse )

N.B. The full article in Nature is currently available free here, but with too many links to supplementary tables etc. to reproduce in this comm.
Genetic analysis suggests a messy split between the two lineages.

The evolutionary split between humans and our nearest evolutionary cousins, chimpanzees, may have occurred more recently than we thought, according to a new comparison of the respective genetic sequences. What's more, it might have been a messy divorce rather than a clean break — leading to the controversial theory that our two sets of ancestors may have interbred many thousands of years after first parting company.

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(also reported on the BBC website)
18th-May-2006 11:40 am - Neanderthal yields nuclear DNA
The first sequences of nuclear DNA to be taken from a Neanderthal have been reported at a US science meeting.

Geneticist Svante Paabo and his team say they isolated the long segments of genetic material from a 45,000-year-old Neanderthal fossil from Croatia.

The work should reveal how closely related the Neanderthal species was to modern humans, Homo sapiens .

Details were presented at a conference at New York's Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and reported by News@Nature.

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By Corey Binns Special to LiveScience

Can openers, scissors and spiral-bound notebooks discriminate against lefties. Despite such challenges, 10 to 12 percent of the human population has historically preferred the left hand.

Why doesn't the number ever waiver? Nobody knows for sure, but new research supports a body of evidence that suggests genetics have a hand in it all.

In the meantime, the myth remains that lefties are more artistic. And the idea that left-handed fighters have an advantage persists on scant evidence, supported by Scottish lore and Rocky Balboa's heroics in the ring.

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Original Article (with map):

HURA, Israel — In a sky blue bedroom they share but rarely leave, a young sister and brother lie in twin beds that swallow up their small motionless bodies, victims of a genetic disease so rare it does not even have a name.

Moshira, 9, and Salame, 8, who began life as apparently healthy babies, fell into vegetative states after their first birthdays.

Now their dark eyes stare enormous and uncomprehending into the stillness of their room. The silence is broken only by the boy's sputtering breaths and the flopping noise his sister's atrophied legs make when they fall, like those of a rag doll, upon the mattress.

"I cannot bear it," said the children's father, Ismail, 37, turning to leave the room as his daughter coughs up strawberry yogurt his wife feeds her through a plastic syringe.

The sick children are Bedouin. Until recently their ancestors were nomads who roamed the deserts of the Middle East and, as tradition dictated, often married cousins. Marrying within the family helped strengthen bonds among extended families struggling to survive the desert. But after centuries this custom of intermarriage has had devastating genetic effects.

Ker Than LiveScience Staff Writer

A comprehensive scan of the human genome finds that hundreds of our genes have undergone positive natural selection during the past 10,000 years of human evolution.

Genes are the instructions organisms use to make proteins. They are encoded in genetic material, usually DNA, and some come in different versions, called “alleles." Positive natural selection occurs when one allele is favored over another due to changes in the environment.

Researchers from the University of Chicago analyzed the genomes of 209 unrelated individuals from three distinct human populations: East Asians, Europeans and Yorubans from Nigeria. Each population contained roughly 250 positively selected genes; however, most of the affected genes differed depending on the group.

“This study addresses the question 'Are humans still evolving?', and the answer is 'Absolutely,'" study team member Benjamin Voight told LiveScience.

Other studies have also reached the same conclusion.

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A comprehensive scan of the human genome finds that hundreds of our genes have undergone positive natural selection during the past 10,000 years of human evolution.

Genes are the instructions organisms use to make proteins. They are encoded in genetic material, usually DNA, and some come in different versions, called “alleles." Positive natural selection occurs when one allele is favored over another due to changes in the environment.

Read more...Collapse )
The discovery of a Turkish family that walks on all fours could aid research into the evolution of humans.

Researchers believe the five brothers and sisters, who can walk naturally only on all fours, may provide new information on how humans evolved from four-legged hominids to walk upright.

Nicholas Humphrey, evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics, told The Times the discovery opened "an extraordinary window on our past".

"I do not think they were designed to be quadrupeds by their genes, but their unique genetic make-up allowed them to be," he said.

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24th-Feb-2006 12:43 pm - Study: Some People Born to Dance
By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

Feb. 21, 2006 — Professional dancers are born with at least two special genes that give them a leg up on the rest of us, according to a new study.

Recent research also has suggested that intelligence, athletic ability and musical talent are linked to our genes and brain hard-wiring.

With dancing added to the list, the evidence indicates that certain individuals are born with a predisposition to specific behaviors and talents, and that at least some of these qualities may represent evolved attributes.

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17th-Feb-2006 01:42 pm(no subject)
Wealthy African-Americans are using DNA kits to trace their roots - all the way back to Africa. But, says Gary Younge the results may tell them things they don't want to hear

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[Incidently correct me if I'm wrong but I think it highly unlikely that Ms Winfry could be a Zulu as I understood Afro American Populations were of West African descent, or is there something of which I am ignorent?]
original article:

Earwax may not play a prominent part in human history but at least a small role for it has now been found by a team of Japanese researchers.

Earwax comes in two types, wet and dry. The wet form predominates in Africa and Europe, where 97 percent or more of the people have it, and the dry form among East Asians, while populations of Southern and Central Asia are roughly half and half. By comparing the DNA of Japanese with each type, the researchers were able to identify the gene that controls which type a person has, they report in the Monday issue of Nature Genetics.
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25th-Jan-2006 08:53 am - Closer to man than ape
Ian Sample, science correspondent, Tuesday January 24, 2006, The Guardian

They already use basic tools, have rudimentary language and star in TV commercials, but now scientists have proof that chimpanzees are more closely related to humans than other great apes.

Genetic tests comparing DNA from humans, chimps, gorillas and orang-utans reveal striking similarities in the way chimps and humans evolve that set them apart from the others.

The finding adds weight to a controversial proposal to scrap the long-used chimp genus "Pan" and reclassify the animals as members of the human family. The move would give chimps a new place in creation's pecking order alongside humans, the only survivor of the genus Homo.

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By Siobhan Kennedy

Scientists in Ireland may have found the country's most fertile male, with more than 3 million men worldwide among his offspring.

The scientists, from Trinity College Dublin, have discovered that as many as one in twelve Irish men could be descended from Niall of the Nine Hostages, a 5th-century warlord who was head of the most powerful dynasty in ancient Ireland.

His genetic legacy is almost as impressive as Genghis Khan, the Mongol emperor who conquered most of Asia in the 13th century and has nearly 16 million descendants, said Dan Bradley, who supervised the research.

"It's another link between profligacy and power," Bradley told Reuters. "We're the first generation on the planet where if you're successful you don't (always) have more children."

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By MALCOLM RITTER, AP Science Writer

Some 3.5 million of today's Ashkenazi Jews — about 40 percent of the total Ashkenazi population — are descended from just four women, a genetic study indicates.

Those women apparently lived somewhere in Europe within the last 2,000 years, but not necessarily in the same place or even the same century, said lead author Dr. Doron Behar of the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel.

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24th-Nov-2005 12:58 pm - DNA search for 'father' Christmas
By Paul Rincon, BBC News science reporter

A team of scientists in Oxford is trying to prove whether families with the rare surname of "Christmas" all descend from a single male ancestor.

They want to compare the DNA of men from different Christmas clans to see if they are linked by a common genetic heritage as well as by their surnames.

This will be done by looking at similarities and differences in the male, or Y, chromosomes of volunteers.

The work is part of wider research on the links between surnames and DNA.

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