'Is there an ape in your genes?' Evolution, DNA and our place in nature
Public event 17.10.2007
SpeakersJonathan Marks, Professor of Anthropology, University of North Carolina (Charlotte)
Organised byESRC Genomics Forum
VenueThe AuditoriumSymposium HallRoyal College of SurgeonsHill PlaceEdinburgh
While it has become quite well known that we are genetically very similar to the apes, the precise meaning of that genetic similarity is not obvious. For example, by the same measurement of our >98% base-for-base DNA identity to chimpanzees, we are also >25% genetically identical to daffodils. By the same phylogenetic argument that we "are" apes (because our ancestry places us within a cluster of such animals), we "are" also fish. While this does not cast doubt on the reality of evolution, it does show that the meanings we attribute to genetic data, to try and understand how we fit in to the natural order, are often very culturally inflected.
Jonathan Marks is Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where he has taught since 2000, having previously taught at Yale and Berkeley. He has worked in genetics, human evolution, and the anthropology of science, and is old enough to have sequenced DNA by hand, using the Maxam-Gilbert method.
Jon's principal interests lie in the area of molecular anthropology, the application of genetic data to illuminate our place in the natural order, or more broadly, the area of overlap between (scientific) genetic data and (humanistic) self-comprehension. He is the author of Human Biodiversity (Aldine/Transaction, 1995), and What It Means to Be 98% Chimpanzee (University of California Press, 2002), which was awarded the W. W. Howells prize in Biological Anthropology from the American Anthropological Association. In 2006 he was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and is currently a Visiting Research Fellow at the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum in Edinburgh.