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Conversation with Lluis Quintana-Murci. Part 3

Lluis Quintana-Murci. Institut Pasteur in Paris
And for Africa, the case is better understood or worse understood? For Africa, we are starting to understand how Bantus expanded from their homeland in the Cameroon-Nigeria area towards the south. Recent data show that they first traversed the Equatorial rainforest to then move towards the east, and eventually the south and absolutely replaced the linguistic – and to a great extent genetic – landscape of previous populations living over there, with a few surviving pockets here and there of hunter-gatherers. In this case, even if you are talking on a linguistic term, “Bantus”, you are just looking at the genomes to do the reconstruction. Yeah.
And it’s at that point when genetics can give answers that for other disciplines it’s much more difficult to tackle or to give a definite answer. For example, linguistics has a kind of maximum depth in time of around 10,000 years. We can reconstruct back the history of different languages, but we cannot go over 10,000 years, whereas in genetics, we can go much deeper in time. And also genetics is important for regions of the world like central Africa for example where archeology and forest fossils are not there because they cannot be conserved in such humid environments. So it’s in that case where archeology cannot give answers where genetics is always there to tackle questions of major importance in human evolution.
So this is related to the classical idea of Cavalli-Forza of the correlation of genes and languages? Yeah, I think so. I think this is still there. And actually it was a very modern hypothesis with some limitations of course, given the time depth and the difference also in mutation of language evolution and genetic evolution. Okay, so today we have seen how genes may explain history, how genes help us to reconstruct our own past, both from a general view of our species to the detail of human populations. Thank you very much.

Lluís Quintana-Murci, Pasteur Institut in Paris.

His research focuses on different ways of reading genomes. He is trying to trace the population history of humans, mostly in Africa and Asia, and investigating how genomes may reflect processes of adaptation, that is, evolution under natural selection.

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