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Genetic diversity

Omar Cornejo and Joanna Kelley in their WSU lab
Spring 2018

It’s in the genes

When Omar Cornejo got his genomic analysis back from 23andMe, he and his wife, fellow population geneticist Joanna Kelley, were both a bit surprised and vindicated. Venezuelan, Cornejo expected to see the alleles, or variations of a gene, from Native American, western European, and North African populations. But he was unaware that his family’s deep history also included ancestors from sub-Saharan Africa.

That just goes to show the importance of broadly sampling the genome, says Kelley. “The lesson is that if you just look at the mitochondria, you’d assume this person is from Africa. But if you look at just the Y chromosome, you’d assume … » More …

Fall 2017

Plant for the future

Somewhere in the dryland wilds of eastern Washington, Michael Neff and his wife stop the car.

“I’ve always wanted to hike these dunes,” he says to her. “I could not believe the grasses that were stabilizing those dunes!” Neff says later. He refuses to identify where, exactly, the dunes in question are located. “It’s those little pockets of diversity that we need to identify and preserve,” he explains, almost—but not quite—apologetic.

Trained as a botanist and now a professor of molecular biology at Washington State University, Neff expands on why this is important: “If we’re going to be resilient in the face of climate … » More …

WSU evolutionary anthropologist Luke Premo
Fall 2012

Yet another existential mystery

Although humans greatly outnumber our closest living relatives the great apes, for some reason the genetic diversity of modern humans is much lower, posing a puzzle that only gets more puzzling the further geneticists look into our evolutionary past. Not only is this disparity counterintuitive, it contradicts a basic tenet of population genetics theory, that larger populations should display greater genetic diversity.

Luke Premo, an assistant professor of anthropology, has taken a stab, with coauthor Jean-Jacques Hublin, at exploring the conundrum in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (January 6, 2009).

Premo is an evolutionary anthropologist who studies Pliocene and Pleistocene hominin behavior … » More …