Natural selection has been a major factor in shaping the current human genetic constitution. Notably, there is accumulating evidence that selection has accelerated in the past 11,000 years since the onset of the Neolithic Period, in particular due to increasing pressures imposed by dietary changes (a shift towards an unbalanced and pro-inflammatory diet rich in cereals, animal proteins and fat) and closer contact with animal pathogens and infectious disease vectors. It has been suggested that evolutionary adaptations to these factors underlie susceptibility to modern immune-mediated diseases.
aDNA extracts of hundreds of human skeletal remains dated from the Neolithic to the modern era are being analyzed for loci that are known to be involved in today’s chronic inflammatory and immune diseases. The aim is to evaluate to what extent diet- and pathogen-driven selection events in the past (e.g. domestication of animals, see also Domestication and Diet; the leprosy epidemic in the European Middle Ages, see also Pathogen Evolution) influenced the frequency of present-day genetic disease factors.
Involved PhD students: Nicolas da Silva, Joanna Bonczarowska, Magdalena Haller.