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Press Release - 06 February 2008

Bath Science Café: How the genome project reveals our evolutionary past

Local people will be able to find out how cataloguing the DNA blueprint of humans is revealing the evolution of human traits, such as higher cognition and language use, at the next Bath Science Café (The Raven pub in Queen Street, 7.30pm, Monday 11 February 2008).

Completed in 2003, the Human Genome Project was a 13-year project to sequence the entire human genome allowing for a comprehensive catalogue of around 20,000 human genes.

As well as helping scientists investigate diseases, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, the human genome is also being compared with genomes of other primate species, such as the macaque and chimpanzee, to understand evolutionary changes specific to humans.

These include the genes responsible for the developmental evolution of bigger, more complex brains, so they could carry out more complex tasks, as well as the genes that have more recently played a role in the adaptation of human populations to different environments and diets.

This includes adaptive changes in genes involved in skin pigmentation and lactose and alcohol tolerance.

“Comparing our genome with those of our closest primate relatives helps us reconstruct and analyse our evolutionary journey,” said Dr Steve Dorus from the Department of Biology & Biochemistry at the University of Bath who will be giving the talk.

“This helps us understand how our genome has been shaped and adapted through natural selection, and gives us important insights into the genes that make us human.”

One example is the foxp2 gene which is implicated in the development of language skills in humans and other animals. Mutations in foxp2 alter language comprehension and use.

“Language, cognition and higher brain function are key elements of human activity that would not be possible without the underlying genetic framework,” said Dr Dorus.

“The human genome project and comparative genomics has provided us with an exciting tool that is revealing important insights into how our species evolved.”

The Science Café is an ongoing series of monthly events where some of the country’s leading scientists will talk informally about their research over a pint.

The event will be held in The Raven pub in Queen Street in the centre of town. No tickets or reservations are required - just turn up at 7.30pm for an 8.00pm start. Organisers will ask for a small voluntary donation to cover travel costs for the speakers.

To register for e-mail alerts about forthcoming Science Café events, contact Melissa Spielman.

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