Departments of Anthropology and Biology
Interdisciplinary programs in Ecology and Bioinformatics & Genomics
Pennsylvania State University
WHAT WE DO:
Population and comparative genomics
Paleogenomics (ancient DNA)
Malagasy extant and extinct lemurs, and people
Parasites as proxies for human evolution
Projects in our lab are broadly motivated by hypotheses about human and non-human primate evolutionary ecology -- how we have adapted to our variable or changing environments. The primary research tools we use for these studies often include analyses of genomic-scale sequence data. New sequencing technologies are now helping to facilitate powerful evolutionary genomic analyses of remote and endangered populations and species, such as those that we often study. We are also using this technology for paleogenomic studies; in addition to the modern DNA lab, we have a separate, sterile ancient DNA lab where we work with the bones and teeth of individuals from extinct species (or from prehistoric populations of extant species). Many projects also involve the collection of complementary ecological data in the field.
Currently, there are three major project areas in the lab. One is focused on the history of human-environment interactions on Madagascar and the evolutionary ecologies of lemurs on the island, including on how this diverse group of primates (including extinct species - the “subfossil” lemurs) has been affected by, and possibly adapted to, anthropogenic habitat disturbances and hunting pressures. The second project is on the evolutionary ecology of human rainforest hunter-gatherers, including the identification and characterization of convergent patterns of adaptation among genetically distinct African and Southeast Asian populations. Finally, we have recently begun genomic and ancient DNA studies of various human parasites, including tapeworms and hookworms, as proxies from which to make inferences about our own evolutionary and ecological history.
Our projects involve fieldwork at sites in Madagascar and Uganda, and have major laboratory and (especially) computational research components. Our research is currently funded by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.
Students are welcome to design studies related to the lab’s current projects, or to develop new programs of research that address entirely different issues of human or non-human primate evolutionary ecology. Prospective graduate students may apply through the Anthropology, Biology, Ecology, or Bioinformatics & Genomics programs, depending on their background and interests. A flyer highlighting the Anthropology graduate program can be downloaded by clicking here.