Co-evolution of Genes & Culture

PI: Davide Pettener
The biological and cultural nature of human beings has long required a multi-disciplinary approach of analysis, aimed at integrating data from different fields, such as genetics, anthropology, linguistics and archeology. Human culture interacts with genes and the environment in complex ways (e.g. cultural adaptations, socio-cultural practices and stratifications, linguistic diversity, sex-biased patterns). Therefore, the study of genes and culture co-evolution is crucial to improve our understanding of human evolutionary history.

Our research activities are focused on the analysis of different aspects of the gene-culture interaction.
The transmission of cultural traits is considered in the context of the genetic variation and biological evolution. State-of-the-art genetic tools (in terms of both genomic data and bio-statistical methods) are combined with new language classification methods to test  parallelism in genes and languages transmission both at local and broad geographical scales.
Other cultural features may leave traces in the genetic variability of present-day human groups. In particular, the study of Italian populations characterized by specific cultural features (ethno-linguistic minorities) or peculiar socio-economic practices (Partecipanze agrarie) is aimed at exploring the effects of linguistic isolation and genetic stratification.
Finally, the correlation between surnames (in-depth paternal genealogies/pedigrees) and Y-chromosome genomic data, is used to trace deep-rooted paternal lineages and to estimate the mutation rates of corresponding genetic markers, providing new insights into specific historical issues and possible forensic applications.

Co-evolution of genes and languages in worldwide human populations
ERC-2011 Advanced Grant Project LANGELIN - LANguage-GEne-LINeage: Meeting Darwin's last challenge: Toward a global tree of human languages and genes