Behavioral and Biological Evolution

Middle Stone Age site of Sibudu Cave (South Africa)

Jamie L. Clark

For the last eight years, Dr. Jamie Clark has been involved in research at the Middle Stone Age (MSA) site of Sibudu Cave (South Africa).  Excavations at the site have been ongoing since 1998 (between 1998-2011, the project director was Dr. Lyn Wadley, University of the Witwatersrand; current excavations are being conducted by Dr. Nicholas Conard, University of Tuebingen) and have uncovered an extensive MSA sequence spanning from greater than 77,000 years ago through ~38,000 years ago.  Much of Dr. Clark’s work has focused on teasing apart the relationships between environmental change and changes in technology and material culture during this critical period in the evolution of our species. 

The Evolution of Olfactory Receptors

Kara C. Hoover

What microevolutionary factors shaped the distribution and diversity in olfactory receptor genes in modern humans? My long-term research is to reconstruct temporal and spatial patterns of variation using genetic data from modern humans. I am particularly interested in the interplay between microevolutionary forces and diet and behavior in shaping the distribution and diversity of olfactory receptor genes during the peopling of new landscapes as humans migrated out of Africa to Eurasia. A forthcoming paper is focused on signatures of selection in OR7D4, an olfactory receptor for sex pheromone detection that is also linked to human pig meat preference. The rich archaeological and genomic record of pig domestication in Asia provides the contextual frame in which I can exploit the promise of the genomics revolution through generation of an integrative anthropological dataset. My analysis of sequence data from modern humans, Altai Neandertal, and Denisova indicates that Eurasians are more likely to have a mutated copy of the gene reducing phenotypic sensitivity to androstenone and increasing preference for pig meat

How does variation influence behavior? I am interested in understanding relationships among olfaction, food choice, and environment. Some evidence suggests that lifestyle and pollution impact olfactory functioning with traditional populations tending to have an attenuated sense of smell compared to urban populations. In addition, pollution can supporess olfactory functioning and further distance us from olfactory environmental cues. This research is nascent and will be developed in the next year. One component is field-based data collection in the UK on rural, urban, farming, and mining populations. Another component is comparing humans to hominins (Denisova and Altai Neandertal).

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