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James Noonan

Department of Genetics
Yale University School of Medicine

Functional insights into human evolution from comparative genomics

March 14, 2008
Engineering Building 110, 4:00 PM

Abstract

The study of human evolution has largely been limited to descriptive analyses, such as comparisons of primate, fossil hominid and modern human anatomy or the computational identification of rapidly evolving human sequences. Although these efforts have taught us much about the evolutionary history of our species, they cannot yield direct functional insight into the genetic mechanisms underlying the evolution of uniquely human traits. I will describe how advances in comparative and functional genomics may begin to reveal the evolutionary processes by which uniquely human traits arose and how they are encoded in the genome. The most recent advances include the sequencing of genomic DNA from extinct hominid species such as Neanderthal and the genome-wide identification of gene regulatory sequences rapidly evolving in humans. These and other developments constitute an emerging synthetic approach to the study of human evolution, in which the rigorous statistical identification of rapidly evolving sequences in the human genome is coupled with functional assays to elucidate the molecular genetic basis of human-specific biology.

Biography

Biographical Sketch:I was raised on Long Island and attended Binghamton from 1993 to 1997, graduating with a BS in Biology with a double major in English Literature. I worked as a technician in a molecular genetics laboratory at the New York Blood Center for two years before moving to Stanford University for my graduate studies in 1999. My thesis work with Rick Myers focused on the protocadherin gene cluster, which encode cell adhesion molecules essential for normal brain development. I conducted an analysis of human genetic diversity in protocadherin gene regulatory sequences. I also carried out a large-scale analysis of protocadherin gene cluster sequences from multiple vertebrate genomes, in order to determine the evolutionary forces that shaped the cluster over time. I received my Ph.D. in Genetics from Stanford in 2004. I did my postdoctoral training with Eddy Rubin at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where I developed a metagenomic library approach in combination with massively parallel 454 pyrosequencing to recover nuclear DNA sequences from 40,000-year old cave bear and Neanderthal remains. I am currently an Assistant Professor in Genetics at Yale, where we study the role of gene regulatory change in human evolution.

Readings

  1. Accelerated evolution of conserved noncoding sequences in humans
  2. Sequences and analysis of Neanderthal genomic DNA

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