SMBE symposium organized by three young Stanford researchers

Many young researchers go to conferences to give a talk or present a poster. But occasionally they get a chance to organize part of the conference. At SMBE, three young Stanford researchers (Ethan Jewett, Nicole Creanza and Oana Carja) are responsible for symposium 33. Ethan and Oana are graduate students and Nicole is a postdoc. The topic of their symposium is “Joint analysis of genetic and cultural data.” It takes place on Thursday afternoon (Thursday  June 12th, 15.15 – 16.45, San Geronimo). I asked the three of them a few questions.

Ethan Jewett

Ethan Jewett

Oana Carja

Oana Carja



When did you decide to propose a symposium? Did you  ever do this before?

We heard about this last fall when the call for symposia went out. We have never done this before.

Why did you choose the topic? Do you work on this topic yourself?

We chose the topic because culture is an important factor affecting human diversity and joint analyses of genetic and cultural data can provide a clearer picture of human evolution and diversity than analysis of either kind of data individually. The joint analysis of genetic and cultural data is not a topic that gets a lot of press at most genetics conferences.

Was it hard to find invited speakers? Who did you invite and why are you excited about their work?

No, it wasn’t difficult to find invited speakers. There are a lot of cool people working in this field so it was great to have the opportunity to hear some of these people speak. We invited Paul Verdu, who is a biological anthropologist who has a long history of working at the interface of genetic and non-genetic evolution to answer important questions about human history.

Was it hard to pick abstracts? How did you go about choosing? 

We had a lot of great abstracts to choose from and it was difficult to narrow things down to a few people. We tried to choose a diverse set of abstracts from individuals from different stages in their careers, different subject areas, different places and types of institutions, and we tried to maintain a gender balance. We initially did a blind review of abstracts to reduce our initial biases and we felt that this helped to reduce the bias in our decision process.

Are there posters associated with your symposium? When are they on display?

Yes, there are posters. Wednesday evening from 7:30-9:30pm and Thursday evening from 5:30-6:30pm. Posters will also be on display starting Wednesday morning, and will be on display through Thursday.

Posters for our symposium are numbers 2196-2200 (see page 23 of this pdf)

What do you hope most for your symposium?

We’d like to encourage people to work at the interface of genetic and cultural evolution because it is important to understand how genetics and culture shape each other. Culture is very important in shaping genetic variation and vice versa. We currently don’t understand how strongly culture impacts genetic variation.

Will you have time to enjoy Puerto Rico? If so, what do you plan to do?

Yes! Eat good food and talk good science!

A link to the symposium abstracts online is here.

Description of the symposium

Cultural factors—such as marriage customs, farming practices, and languages—can create population substructure, influence admixture, and place selective pressures on genetic variants (Quintana-Murci et al. 2008; Risch et al. 2009; Burger et al. 2007; Barbujani and Sokal 1990, Coia et al. 2012). An understanding of the impact of cultural practices on genetic variation can facilitate the use of genetic data to infer the cultural forces that have shaped modern populations. Moreover, the joint analysis of genetic and cultural data can provide more precise inferences of demographic histories. However, the ways in which cultural forces have shaped genetic diversity remain poorly understood. This symposium aims to explore recent advances in the joint analysis of genetic and cultural data, as well as methodologies for performing these analyses. The work presented in this symposium will connect researchers who work on these questions, and provide a basis for future research into the important role of culture in the evolution of populations.

Program (Thursday June 12th, 15.15 – 16.45, San Geronimo)

3:15 – 3:45  Parallel trajectories of genetic and linguistic admixture in Cape Verdean Kriolu speakers.
Paul Verdu*, Ethan Jewett, Trevor Pemberton, Noah Rosenberg, Marlyse Baptista

3:45 – 4:00  Genes mirror subsistence in prehistoric Europe
Mattias Jakobsson

4:00 – 4:15 Genome-wide analysis of Oceanian ancestry
Ana T. Duggan*, David Reich, Mark Stoneking

4:15 – 4:30 Cultural transmission of reproductive success: a strong evolutionary force that shapes genetic diversity.
Evelyne Heyer, Jean-Tristan Brandenburg, Michela Leonardi, Patricia Balaresque, Bruno Toupance, Tatyana Hegay, Almaz Aldashev, Frederic Austerlitz*

4:15 – 4:30  Biocultural Analysis of Variation in Blood Pressure among African Americans in the Health Equity Alliance of Tallahassee (HEAT) Heart Health Study
Laurel N. Pearson*, Sarah M. Szurek, Clarence C. Gravlee, Connie J. Mulligan

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