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Human evolution at the crossroads: Integrating genetics and paleontology

SEATTLE -- Advances in genetics during the last decade not only have influenced modern medicine, they also have changed how human evolution is studied, says an anthropologist from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Using her own research on the teeth of baboons as a case in point, Leslea J. Hlusko said that some of the traits considered important to human evolution, such as the thickness of molar enamel, may be too simplistically interpreted by some paleontologists.

Hlusko organized a Monday symposium on human evolution at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She brought together experts who study phylogenetics, ancient DNA, developmental genetics, quantitative genetics and primate evolution so that they could share the same stage to discuss their current work, and where they may be able to go on together in an effort to understand the evolution of our ancestors. The session was discussed Sunday at a news briefing.

Hlusko's call for an integration of paleontology and genetics is also the focus of a perspective article that will appear online Monday ahead of print publication by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Data from developmental genetics and biomedicine, coupled with advances in computer technology, now provide us with a wealth of new information from which to better understand the genetic and non-genetic influences underlying primate, including human, evolution," Hlusko said in an interview. "By combining these different data sets with the fossil record, we don't have to be just paleontologists, or just geneticists. Because selection operates on the genome through our anatomies, it makes better sense to conduct our research with a similarly integrative approach. Recent advances in genetics have now made this method more feasible for primate studies."

Research on early hominids, she argues, has benefited from an abundance of new fossil find
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Contact: Jim Barlow, Life Sciences Editor
jebarlow@staff.uiuc.edu
217-333-5802
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
15-Feb-2004


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