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History Aids Understanding Diseases Today

human history, disease
Reich has helped to create a paradigm shift in our understanding of how populations evolve. (Image credit: NSF)

In recent years, genetic data has emerged as one of the most powerful means of understanding the history and evolution of humans, as well as finding disease-causing genes. Harvard University's David Reich studies human population history and genetics as well as genomics.  His work has been important in documenting major population mixtures in human history: for example, Neandertal gene flow into the ancestors of all non-Africans, and major mixture in the history of people from India. This has contributed to a paradigm shift. In the last few years, it has become clear that major population mixture is the rule, not the exception, in human history. Being a geneticist today is "really like being sort of a child in a candy store," Reich says. "There are so many unanswered questions and the data are finally in place to really answer them. We can all answer these questions about human history and how people relate to each other that we really couldn't answer before." Reich also studies disease risk in African Americans and other populations. He led a study that found seven genetic risk factors that entirely account for the increased prostate cancer incidence observed in African Americans compared with European Americans.

Name: David Reich                 Institution: Harvard University Field of Study: Population history, genetics, genomics

Editor's Note: The researchers depicted in ScienceLives articles have been supported by the National Science Foundation, the federal agency charged with funding basic research and education across all fields of science and engineering. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. See the ScienceLives archive.