07157 - Biology of Human Populations

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Good health and well-being Gender equality Reduced inequalities Life on land

Academic Year 2019/2020

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course, the student will have the theoretical and methodological grounding for the analysis of the biodiversity and evolution of human populations. In particular, the student will understand the factors and mechanisms that underlie the human biodiversity, with specific reference to the variability patterns of anthropological, bio-demographic and genetic markers.


Course contents

Module 1 (Prof. Davide Pettener): 20 hours

  1. Introduction to the study of human biodiversity
  2. Do the human races exist? Patterns of intra- and inter-population genetic variability.
  3. Human ecology and adaptation
  4. Concepts of bio-demography

Module 2 (Dr. Stefania Sarno): 20 hours

  1. Introduction to human genetic variation and types of molecular markers
  2. Basic concepts in population genetics
  3. Processes shaping diversity in human populations: Mutation. Recombination. Genetic drift. Migration and gene-flow. Natural selection.
  4. Methods for the analysis of the genetic diversity of human population: Measuring genetic diversity and genetic distance. Phylogenetic analyses. Population structure analyses.

Module 3 (Dr. Cristina Giuliani): 20 hours

1) Human epigenetic variability and methods of analysis
2) Evolution of human diet: evolutionary mechanisms at the basis of modern pathologies such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. Evolutionary principles of caloric restriction and effect on human health.
3) The Epidemiology of human disease: ecology, adaptation and disease, the example of Chagas disease in Argentina. Methods of data analysis.
4) An evolutionary and biocultural perspective to the study of inflammatory mechanisms and of stress response in different environments.
5) Human ageing, senescence and longevity


Material from the lessons provided by the lecturer and some chapters extracted from the following textbooks:

  • Sara Stinson • Barry Bogin • Dennis O’Rourke • "Human Biology: an evolutionary and biocultural perspective (second edition)”
  • Toomas Kivisild • Chris Tyler-Smith • Matthew Hurles • Edward Hollox • Mark A. Jobling • “Human Evolutionary Genetics (II edition)”.
  • Alexandra Alvergne • Crispin Jenkinson • Charlotte Faurie • "Evolutionary thinking in Medicine from Reasearch to Policy and Practice"
  • Paul Demeny • Life Span Evolutionary, Ecological, and Demographic Perspectives

Teaching methods


Assessment methods

The purpose of the Biology of Human Populations exam is to verify that the student has acquired a theoretical and methodological basis for the analysis and interpretation of biodiversity, micro-evolutionary phenomena and patterns of growth and ageing in human populations. The oral exam focuses on three questions (one for each of the three subject areas of the programme). The final mark, out of thirty, will result from the average of the marks obtained for each of the three questions.

Teaching tools

PC, video projector

Office hours

See the website of Davide Pettener

See the website of Stefania Sarno

See the website of Cristina Giuliani