July 5: From Neanderthals to COVID-19 – genetic and evolutionary sources of human immune response variation

Jul 05, 2022

Join Dr. Lluis Quintana-Murci, visiting scholar in the French Scholar Lecture Series, for a seminar on the role of genetic diversity in human adaptation and survival against infection.

Dr. Lluis Quintana-Murci is Director of Research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and Professor at the Institut Pasteur in Paris. He was appointed Professor at the Collège de France as the Chair in Human Genomics and Evolution in October 2019. He is internationally renowned for his research on the genetic architecture of human populations and the role of genetic diversity in human adaptation. His laboratory uses genomic data to infer the past demographic history of human populations, with a focus on Africa, and dissects the different forms in which natural selection can act on the human genome. They are especially interested in exploring the extent to which pathogens have exerted pressures on human innate immunity genes, using a systems immunology approach to understand how different factors (genetic, epigenetic, environmental, etc.) drive immune response variation between individuals and populations.


The immune response is one of the functions that has been more strongly targeted by natural selection during human evolution. The evolutionary genetic dissection of the immune system has greatly helped to distinguish genes and functions that are essential, redundant or advantageous for human survival. It is also becoming increasingly clear that ancient admixture between early Eurasians with now-extinct hominins such as Neanderthals or Denisovans, or modern admixture between human populations, can be beneficial for human adaptation to environmental cues, including pathogen pressures.

Dr. Quintana-Murci will focus on how integrating population genetics and functional genomics of contemporary humans with ancient DNA from both ancient humans and extinct hominins — including ancient DNA data from different epochs — can inform about key immunological mechanisms of host defense, the detection of natural selection in real time, and the history of past epidemics such as tuberculosis. Furthermore, he will present recent data on the dissection of the genetic and evolutionary factors driving variation in human immune responses to RNA viruses, including SARS-CoV-2. Collectively, these results suggest that, while environmentally-driven differences in cellular composition are a major contributor to population variation in immunity to infection, genetic ancestry and adaptive evolution have also played a critical role in the differentiation of immune responses to viruses presently observed across major continental groups.

Dr. Quintana-Murci is hosted by PWIAS Wall Associate Dr. Michael Kobor, Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Social Epigenetics and Professor in the Department of Medical Genetics. This French Scholar Lecture is presented in partnership with the Consulate General of France in Vancouver.