I am interested in understanding the impact of evolutionary history on genetic variation and to apply this knowledge to learn about human history and biology. Insights gained from these analyses can not only deepen our understanding of human origins, but also provide a framework to interpret observations from other fields such as molecular biology and human genetics. Importantly, they illuminate the sources of genetic and phenotypic variation among individuals and across species and help identify genes related to human adaptation and disease.
A major focus of my Ph.D. and postdoctoral work has been to develop new computational approaches for dating evolutionary events using the “molecular clock” provided by the steady accumulation of mutation and recombination events. To this end, I have used genetic data from modern and ancient genomes to characterize population structure in contemporary human populations, to date archaic admixture between humans and Neanderthals and to estimate the human-ape divergence times. These, and other studies, highlight how molecular clock based approaches can complement historical and paleontological evidence to learn about human history at deep timescales.
I am also interested in studying the variability in mutation and recombination rates across primates and to understand the role of life history traits and other factors in shaping mutation rates. Understanding this variation is important for designing effective methods for dating events in primate evolution, and also for learning about the determinants of mutation rate and their evolution across species.
My current research focuses on understanding the evolutionary history and functional impact of human-specific duplications (i.e., gene copies not found in other primates). While gene duplications are known to have led to evolutionary novelty in many species, the functional consequences of duplications that arose on the human lineage remains largely unknown. Characterizing the chronology and selective pressures impacting the fixation of these duplications in humans will allow us to learn about the evolutionary processes leading to acquisition of human-specific traits and understand the dynamics of human adaptation.