genetics unzipped

Podcast: Tracing humanity’s roots: uncovering history and genetic diversity in Africa

Kat Arney: Kat Arney, biologist and award-winning science communicator, hosts the Genetics Unzipped podcast, a project of the UK Genetics Society.    More details

Geneticist Dr Kat Arney sits down with Sarah Tishkoff, Professor in Genetics and Biology at the University of Pennsylvania and Director of the Penn Center for Global Genomics and Health Equity, to talk about her research mapping human genetic diversity in Africa. Tishkoff has spent decades working closely with communities and researchers throughout the continent, gathering huge amounts of data from many different populations in order to understand how genetic variation affects a wide range of traits, and how humans have adapted to a changing world.

As well as talking about the complexities of carrying out ethical fieldwork with African populations, Tishkoff also explains why it’s so important to use more genetically diverse data to inform the development of precision medicine.

“It’s important… to be more inclusive in human genetics research so that everybody may benefit from the research. I think that if we don’t include ethnically diverse populations, it’s just going to exacerbate health inequalities,” she says. 

Arney also talks with Dr Garrett Hellenthal, Associate Professor in Genetics, Evolution & Environment at UCL about his work investigating the interplay between genetics, culture and society of the Ari people of Ethiopia.  Curiously, although the Ari all originated from the same group, they have separated into highly distinctive genetic groups according to occupation, suggesting that social norms are a powerful driving force for the evolution of the population.


Finally, we hear from Dr Lucy van Dorp, a ‘genetic archaeologist’ based at the UCL Genetics Institute, who has been studying human genomes to unearth the hidden history of the Kuba Kingdom – a mighty 17th century African Kingdom. Based in the region that is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Kuba Kingdom was such an advanced civilization that European colonizers couldn’t believe it was truly African. However, the history written the in DNA of the Kuba people reveals that the Kingdom accumulated its intellectual and financial wealth by acting as a kind of metropolitan mixing pot for the surrounding area.

Full transcript, links and references available online at

Related article:  WTF? Did the rise of agriculture—and soft foods—give us the ability to drop F bombs?

Genetics Unzipped is the podcast from the UK Genetics Society, presented by award-winning science communicator and biologist Kat Arney and produced by First Create the Media.  Follow Kat on Twitter @Kat_Arney, Genetics Unzipped @geneticsunzip, and the Genetics Society at @GenSocUK

Listen to Genetics Unzipped on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) Google Play, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts


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