University of Rome "La Sapienza"

3-5 December 2009



In the past twenty years, molecular anthropology has played an increasingly important role in the wider context of physical anthropology, becoming one of its most promising and rapidly growing sectors. Several aspects of human evolution have, in fact, been elucidated thanks to a molecular approach, leading to substantial advances in different fields (such as primate phylogeny, population history, and adaptation). One of the key examples concerns the insights gained into the origin and diffusion of Homo sapiens through the study of mitochondrial DNA, which has given important support to the "Out of Africa" model since the late 80s, and has led to the spread of the popular concept of "mitochondrial Eve". Since then, much attention has been paid to the analysis of uniparental transmitted polymorphisms of mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome. Studies have covered different geographic scales, from regional to worldwide distributed populations, while focusing on global variation or specific lineages.


Molecular anthropology has also moved beyond its traditional disciplinary boundaries, such as the genetics of complex diseases. Fortunately, many researchers outside our discipline have understood the importance of studying the genetic structure and demographic history of populations, two aspects which are now routinely taken into account when choosing samples for association studies, or when identifying potential confounding factors.


At present, molecular anthropologists have two challenges. In fact, they need to develop strategies to optimize their interaction with researchers from different disciplines (not only genetic epidemiology, but also molecular archaeology and primatology). At the same time, the constantly increasing number of informative polymorphisms, discovered thanks to important projects on the human genome (such as the Human Genome Project, Human Genome Diversity Project and HapMap), requires constant methodological and theoretical updates.


DNA Polymorphisms in Human Populations: Molecular Anthropology in the Genomic Era" is part of a biennial series of meetings organized by Franz Manni (Musée de l'Homme, Paris, France). Rome was chosen as the location to host the 2009 meeting to enhance the collaboration between the Musée de l'Homme and the Istituto Italiano di Antropologia, two institutions which share the same strong commitment towards an interdisciplinary perspective concerning human evolution.

The aim of this meeting is to present the state-of-the-art of human genetic history in continent-specific sessions, and to discuss how our discipline could better interact with other fields of research. Particular attention will be given to the impact of new analytical methods developed by the scientific community in the last few years. Topics to be discussed will include both theoretical aspects of these new developments, and new data, as well as an account of the evidence we are obtaining through the analysis of new and next-generation DNA sequencing methods and bioinformatic tools. The final session will be dedicated to the discussion of theoretical and practical aspects of interdisciplinary interactions in human evolutionary research, putting molecular anthropologists face-to-face with researchers from Paleoanthropology, Archeology, Linguistics and Medicine.



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