Department of Evolutionary Genetics
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Deutscher Platz 6
phone: +49 341 3550 - 500
Genetic Diversity and Selection (Aida Andrés)
Our main interest is to understand the influence that natural selection has played in the evolution of humans and other primates. We are intrigued by how adaptation has shaped the evolution of relevant phenotypes. How has natural selection influenced the acquisition of species-specific traits? What selective forces are responsible for phenotypic diversity within populations? How does past selection affect our present-day phenotypes?
At present, we are actively working on these main research areas:
Balancing selection maintains advantageous diversity in populations by a variety of mechanisms. In humans it is responsible, for example, for the extreme levels of genetic diversity of the MHC locus, and for the fascinating equilibrium that maintains sickle-cell anemia alleles in malaria-suffering populations due to heterozygotes advantage. In other species, balancing selection maintains diversity that is crucial for sex determination, self-incompatibility, defense against pathogens, or escape from predators. Our goal is to understand the influence of balancing selection in the genome (its prevalence, conservation among populations and species, its most common targets) and to unravel the biological factors behind its signatures (its specific targets, the functional consequences of selected variants, their contribution to phenotypic diversity in populations). For this, we combine genomic approaches with detailed population genetics, computational, and experimental studies, that allow us to go from the genome to the phenotype.
Through series of migration events, humans have colonizing virtually every habitable corner of the globe. Settling in such different environments was possible thanks to both cultural and biological adaptations. Although genetic differences among human groups are few and largely neutral, a few genetic differences are responsible for important phenotypic traits, including medically-related phenotypes. We are interested in measuring to what extent local selective pressures have influenced the genetic make up of humans, and which mechanisms mediated adaptation to each environment. We are particularly interested in complex genetic processes underlying local adaptation, such as changes in the strength or type of natural selection, and polygenic adaptation.
Comparative population genomics
Considerable knowledge has accumulated on the influence of natural selection in specific human populations. Still, little is known about the conservation of such selective pressures, both among human populations and across different species. Loci under similar selective pressures are likely affected by common environmental factors and are behind shared phenotypes; loci under species- or population-specific selection are likely affected by local selective forces and are responsible for differential traits. Through a number of genomic approaches we aim at helping establish the level of conservation of different types of natural selection, and at identifying loci that are responsible for species- and population-specific traits.