Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2018/2019

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course, students will acquire knowledge on human evolutionary history from a molecular perspective. In particular, they will be able to analyse: - contribution of molecular markers to the reconstruction of human evolutionary and biodiversity patterns; - their applications in the field of forensic sciences; - admixture processes that have shaped present human molecular variation; variation patterns at neutral and adaptive/dis-adaptive genomic loci.   

Course contents

Module 1

Introduction to human evolutionary history.

  • Differences between humans and both Neanderthals and Denisovans: time, places and models
  • Main changes occurred during principal epidemiological and demographic transitions: from Paleolithic to Neolithic and during the Industrial age
  • Micro-evolutionary factors and genomic biodiversity considering different human groups
  • Methods of molecular anthropology for the study of genetic variability: description of mitochondrial DNA, Y chromosome, autosomic markers by genome-wide analyses and reference databases

Application of molecular anthropology in forensic sciences.

  • Population variability, genetic ancestry and genetic determinants of phenotypic variability as a tool for forensic investigation
  • Databases and software common in anthropology used for forensic considerations: Phylotree, EMPOP, Haplogrep, Haplofind, YHRD, Haplogroup predictor
  • Human population epigenetic diversity in forensic sciences: DNA methylation to assess difference between monozygotic twins, body fluids identification and age estimation. Description of the most widely used technology for the study of DNA methylation levels.

Module 2

Evolutionary concepts and anthropological perspective in the study of human health

  • Evolutionary thinking for the understanding of modern human diseases (principles of evolutionary medicine)
  • The action of natural selection on the human genome
  • Human genetic adaptation to the environment, pathogens, and diet
  • Mechanisms of epigenetic adaptation
  • Diseases as a result of evolutionary mismatches


During the course, all the references and the projected slides will be provided

Teaching methods

Lectures, scientific papers presentation by students and class discussion

Assessment methods

Students who attend the course are expected to present a scientific paper with an oral presentation with power point slides. Written examination (6 multiple choices questions, 4 essay questions).

Teaching tools

The material used for lectures (power point presentations) will be available for students. A list of research articles for valuable insights will be also provided. Examples of exercises will be provided for a self-evaluation.

Office hours

See the website of Donata Luiselli

See the website of Marco Sazzini