A nice lecture from Matthew on genetics and human evolution

October 15, 2021 • 12:45 pm

Here’s a virtual lecture on genetics and evolution that Matthew gave the other day to the Cardiff University’s School of Medicine. It was intended for the general public, was just posted on YouTube, and I’ve listened to it.  I have been most enlightened, and unless you already know this stuff you will be, too—it’s an up-to-date explication of what we know about the evolution of the genus Homo and what genetics tells us about our post. Of course, this field changes rapidly, and more surprises are in store. And mysteries remain about what we do know: why, for example, did the Neanderthals disappear?

At the end, Matthew considers the question, “What does it meant to be human?” and reprises the lessons and implications of recent genetic studies of anthropology. You can see how Matthew’s knowledge of the topic and his enthusiasm for conveying it has made him a popular lecturer, and garnered him teaching awards.

The formal lecture ends at 54:00, and then Matthew answers the viewers’ questions.

21 thoughts on “A nice lecture from Matthew on genetics and human evolution

  1. Very interesting and informative. People always are looking for a straight and simple line to explain the history and it just does not work that way. If we walked out of Africa we must have been first. No, others had done it before. Then what happened to them — we just do not know.

  2. Excellent. Although I had read about much of the topics, Matt made everything much more orderly and clearer. Thanks so much.

  3. A most excellent talk. I really loved the animation of the Denosivan woman. After reading The Idea of the Brain, I suspected Dr Cobb would be a superb speaker and I was not disappointed. Thanks for the link.

  4. Nice talk. One small quibble about Matthew’s comment on Wallace’s Line. Matthew said Wallace’s Line applied to mammals but not birds. However, bird distributions are often bounded by Wallace’s line, and birds were part of Wallace’s original argument.

  5. I really enjoyed this talk! Matthew, if you go see those footprints in New Mexico- please come stay with me in Las Cruces, NM (~45 miles from the site). Get Jerry to connect us!

  6. Saved the link for later. Incidentally, a possible typo “… what genetics tells us about our post”, which was meant to be “past” I think.

  7. Great lecture.
    I was surprised to learn in the introduction that Matthew is a psychologist. What is going on with our modern psychologists? Cobb, Pinker, great thinkers and great speakers . They appear to have moved away from Greek mythology and clearly are well informed about biology, evolution and genetics. A development I think is absolutely fantastic.
    I was particularly struck by the reconstruction of the Denisovan woman from just DNA. I know it is kinda speculative, and the artist almost certainly used some ‘artistic freedom’ to make her beautiful, but still.

    Some interesting details on the Out of Africa:
    – Modern humans were present in the Levant more than 120,000 years ago, but were later replaced by Neanderthals.(Stringer).
    – Oppenheimer makes a good case that the bulk of now non- Africans left Africa about 92 000 years ago by the Gate of Tears, and ascribes the bottleneck to the explosion of mount Toba about 70 000 years ago. He bases this on mitochondrial and Y chromosome DNA. Matthew mentions that this hypothesis about Toba was incorrect . I was unaware of that, but Matthew gives no details as to why either.
    – I think it is generally accepted that Homo erectus left Africa the first time about 1.9 million years ago.

    Another trivium: Vitamin D from plants needs UV light to become bioavailable, much less so the Vitamin D from animal, particularly fish, sources. Populations with a mainly vegetarian diet in extremely Northern areas are prone to rickets, often a horrendous death sentence for a woman on her first pregancy (before Caesarion section). There must have been a tremendous selective pressure for lighter skins in those populations.

  8. Tool making was an integral part of our becoming human!
    Sharper stone edges, strangely a representative of sharper hominin brains, might have been a driving factor in the evolution of our genus!
    Tool sharpening and meat eating were typical part of the hominin adaptation! Evolutionarily speaking, we’re a butcher genus!
    Sharp-edged tools helped our genus eat meat and marrow – foods higher in protein, fat and calories in the savage savanna!
    Chimpanzees (tribe Hominini sharing with humans) crack nuts with stones and hunt small animals with tree branches!
    Though tool making didn’t emerge only with our genus, only humans could use tools to make other tools like stone knives!

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