The UCSC Human Paleogenomics Lab is a subsection of the UCSC Paleogenomics Labs a joined venture of the PIs Beth Shapiro (EEB), Ed Green (Engineering), and Lars Fehren-Schmitz (Anthropology). We are also part of the UCSC Genomics Institute.


Our work in the UCSC Human Paleogenomics Lab looks at the twin forces of culture and biology in shaping human genomic diversity, demography and health. Since our species emerged around 200,000 years ago, humans have successfully occupied almost all of the planet’s terrestrial ecosystems, adapting to a multitude of novel stress factors, and persisting in an ever-changing world—changes that we humans have been increasingly responsible for in the last 10,000 years or so. Our lab is especially interested in this period, the anthropocene, examining how modern-day humans’ genetic variability has arisen from niche construction and the co-evolution of genes and culture. Rather than inferring our models from modern genomic data, we analyze DNA from ancient humans, pathogens, and associated metagenomes, and remain attentive to the cultural and natural environments those humans inhabited.

Our focus on population history considers the changes in climate and social complexity that have influenced the genetic structure and demography of past human populations. While most of our work has been done in South America, we increasingly study other parts of the world, using ancient human and pathogen DNA to find the demographic and epidemiological effects of European contact on Native American populations, and trace human dispersals in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Caucasus, and Western Europe. We are also interested in gene-culture coevolution from such stressors as nutrition or high-altitude living, host-pathogen coevolution in illnesses like malaria and Chagas disease, and how epigenetic mechanisms that contribute to plasticity also drive evolution on the small and large scales.

“The land UC Santa Cruz occupies is the unceded territory of the Awaswas-speaking Uypi Tribe. The Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, comprised of the descendants of indigenous people taken to missions Santa Cruz and San Juan Bautista during Spanish colonization of the Central Coast, is today working hard to restore traditional stewardship practices on these lands and heal from historical trauma.”

Our research is funded by:

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