Evolutionary biologist Marcus Feldman uses DNA to understand early human migration out of Africa. In this interview, we learn the utility of language, how and why early humans spread to all continents, and the idea that people still don’t “have it in their heads” just how similar we all are.
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Professor Feldman’s research group uses applied mathematics and computer modelling to simulate and analyze the process of evolution, which by its very nature is statistical. It focuses on four general areas of interest. First is the evolution of complex genetic systems that can undergo both natural selection and recombination. This theory is relevant to the major histocompatibility complex of humans, a multi-gene system that influences the immune response and appears to affect the frequency of certain diseases in human populations. Second, the evolution of learning is being examined as one interface between modern methods in artificial intelligence and models of biological processes, including communication. Third, the interaction of biological and cultural evolution is being investigated as, for example, in the spread of food plant domestication across Europe, and the transmission of learned behaviors in contemporary groups. Progress in these areas is yielding insight into problems ranging from the origin and control of genetic systems to the medical control of diseases. The fourth area concerns mathematical and statistical analysis of molecular evolution, particularly microsatellite polymorphism.