The root cause of tuberculosis among ancient Peruans, the perilous ways that racism can lead to health problems, and the success of Tibetan highlanders in conceiving children were some of the issues that were brought up at the American Association of Physical Anthropology’s annual meeting. The American Association of Anthropological Genetics sponsored one session and covered complex phenotypes (traits that are the result of multiple genetic, environment, and cultural risk factors).
Connie Mulligan, who is both a professor of human anthropology at Florida and also the associate director of its Genetics Institute, makes the case for bridging this gap. “It is easier not to have a conversation with another field of terminology and culture. But, I think that this type approach provides the best answers,” she states.
Cynthia Beall, Case Western Reserve University’s researcher, investigates how natural Selection may affect the reproductive success of those who live at the highest mountain plateau bordering Tibet/Nepal, approximately three kilometers above ground. Visitors to the area suffer from altitude illness as the hemoglobin concentrations increase quickly due to the unfamiliar atmosphere. However, native highlanders are more likely to have hemoglobin levels equal to those living at sea level. Tibetan mountain dwellers wouldn’t be able to keep higher hemoglobin values throughout their lives without this adaptive trait.
Beall wanted to see if natural selection had been involved in the adaptation. Her collaborators–geneticists, public-health specialists, and biostatisticians as well as anthropologists and translators– collected data from more than 1,000 women, not only in the form of blood and saliva samples but also in lengthy interviews and family histories. Beall said that adaptation to low hemoglobin content does increase pregnancies’ success rates. It is equivalent to “about two percent more likely” that a pregnancy will lead to a live birth. This seemingly insignificant advantage could prove to be significant due to natural selection when it applies to many generations.
University of Florida researcher Lance Gravlee is using a multidisciplinary approach. They are studying the factors that influence high blood pressure in African American adults
Another context is the discovery of new information by archaeologists, geneticists, and anthropologists about the prehistory a terrifying disease. Tuberculosis is often thought to have arrived in the Americas through colonial missions from Europe. The similarities between the Mycobacterium tuberculosis genomes across the two continents seem to support this view. Anne Stone, an Arizona State University researcher, was curious about the genome of tuberculosis that had been found in skeletons of Peruvians dating back many centuries before European contact. It was only through sequencing DNA from these lesions, that Anne Stone could determine the source and origin of the ancient American tuberculosis. This turned out to be marine mammals, or seals.