National Geographic geneticist to speak at TTU Jan. 29

Posted by Lori Shull - Tuesday, January 22 2013
lshull@tntech.edu

 

thumb Wells_BeckyHaleThere are more than 7 billion people living in nearly every corner of the earth, yet there is genetic evidence that we all came from ancestors who lived in Africa 200,000 and 140,000 years ago.

Relatively recently in that migration, our species made the switch from being hunter-gatherers to farmers. That change made a dramatic shift in lifestyle possible, and allowed for society as we know it to develop.

The downside of agriculture, however, we are just beginning to realize. Growing crops has made humankind more sedentary and more unhealthy and has crowded the planet, according to anthropologist Spencer Wells author of “Pandora’s Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization.”

Wells will speak about his work and the book during Tennessee Tech University’s annual Stonecipher lecture at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 29, in Derryberry Auditorium.

Farming, according to Wells, created a pressure to work and the anxiety millions feel today and replaced the freedom of movement of the hunter-gatherers. It has also lead to a “profound shift in the causes of disease” and the rise of health issues like type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease. More and more often, according to Wells, people’s lifestyle choices are causing their deaths.

The freedom of movement that helped to populate the earth is Wells’ other interest. A population geneticist and National Geographic’s explorer in residence, he has worked in more than three dozen countries, studying humankind’s family tree and closing the gaps in our knowledge of human migration as part of National Geographic’s Genographic Project. By studying DNA of people living today, Wells tracks humanity back to that one ancestor across billions of people, thousands of years and seven continents.

Wells earned his doctoral degree at Harvard University after graduating with honors from the University of Texas, where he enrolled at age 16. Post-doctoral training at Stanford University’s School of Medicine in 1994 prompted his interest in studying genomic diversity in indigenous populations.

Sponsored by TTU’s Center Stage, the lecture is free and open to the public. Derryberry Auditorium is located in Derryberry Hall at 1 Wm. L. Jones Drive on TTU’s campus.