July 24 , 2006

International meeting of scientists to discuss genomics and human origins

Hamilton, ON - Anthropology has been turned on its head with the advent of genomics. Fundamental questions about human existence are now being probed not via traditional lines of anthropological inquiry, such as analyzing fossils, but through analyzing genes.

 A workshop, one of the first of its kind in the world, will bring together world-class scientists to discuss what has become one of the most hotly debated and exciting areas of health and science – the link between genomics and the origins of humans.

From August 3-5, McMaster University will host The Genomic Revolution and the Origin of Humanity, a workshop that will set in motion international research efforts in population and reproductive biology, molecular medicine, gene and stem cell therapies, and environmental health.

“Genomics is revolutionizing the way we look at human evolution,” says Ralph Pudritz, director of McMaster’s Origins Institute. “Our relation to other species fascinates all scientists. It’s not just a curiosity issue: decoding human evolution can help us understand and find cures for diseases affecting humans.”

Hendrik Poinar, assistant professor of anthropology at McMaster University, who made headlines last year when he mapped the genome of the woolly mammoth, acknowledges that discovery opens up uncomfortable issues.

“The genomic revolution has hit, but with it has come all sorts of ethical questions,” says Poinar. “For instance, if you can determine someone’s genetic makeup do you then allow insurance companies access to the information?  Will it mean higher health premiums? Or will it skew an insurer’s opinion if your genetic makeup predisposes you to certain disease? It’s a really thorny subject, something every country on the planet will have to face.” 

Mark Stoneking, a professor at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, will deliver the Origins Institute Public Lecture on “Genetics and Human Origins”. The lecture is free, and will take place Friday, Aug. 4 at 8 p.m., at McMaster University in the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Learning & Discovery, room 1305.

The workshop will take place in Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Learning & Discovery, room 1309.

Further information on the workshop as well as a complete list of participants is available at http://origins.physics.mcmaster.ca/genomics/ 

McMaster University, a world-renowned, research-intensive university, fosters a culture of innovation, and a commitment to discovery and learning in teaching, research and scholarship. Based in Hamilton, the University, one of only four Canadian universities to be listed on the Top 100 universities in the world, has a student population of more than 23,000, and an alumni population of more than 115,000 in 128 countries.