Human Biological Variation

Human Biological Variation

Human Biological Variation

Human Biological Variation


This text explores human biological variation in its broadest sense--from the molecular to the physiological and morphological--focusing on the micro-evolutionary analysis of genetic variation among recent human populations. Authoritative yet accessible, Human Biological Variation opens withan introduction to basic genetics and the evolutionary forces that set the stage for understanding human diversity. It goes on to offer a detailed and clear discussion of molecular genetics and its uses and relationship to anthropological and evolutionary models. The text features up-to-datediscussions of "classic" genetic markers (blood groups, enzymes, and proteins), along with extensive background on DNA analysis and detailed coverage of satellite DNA, single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), Alu inserts, and the coalescent model. The book addresses such current issues as the meaningand significance of "race," quantitative genetics and the "nature versus nurture" debates, biocultural interactions, population structure, and cultural and historical influences on patterns of human variation. Human Biological Variation lucidly explains the use of probability and statistics in studies of human variation and adaptation, keeping the mathematics at the level of basic algebra. It also presents computer simulations in a manner that makes complex issues easily understandable. Integratingexamples on topics that are of particular interest to students--including dyslexia, IQ, and homosexuality--Human Biological Variation provides the most thorough thorough view of our biological diversity and is ideal for upper-level undergraduate and graduate classes on human adaptation andvariation.


People are biologically and culturally very diverse. We often think about these differences in terms of race or ethnic group. Seldom do we pause and think about the variations in terms of their evolutionary origin or their adaptive significance. Human variation can be visible (e.g., differences in skin color, hair form, or nose shape) or invisible (biochemical differences, e.g., blood group antigens and serum proteins or molecular traits). Anthropologists have studied these variations for years and have attempted to understand why populations have different traits or have the same traits but in different frequencies. Research on human variation initially focused on racial classification and the documenting of physical and genetic differences between populations. Today, most of the research focuses on examining variation using evolutionary models and perspectives. The goal of these studies is to understand why the differences exist and how they help humans adapt to varying environments rather than to simply document the differences and create racial categories.

The study of human biological diversity is challenging and has historically been fraught with controversy. Chapter 1 opens this book with a brief history of how scientists have studied human diversity over the ages. Examining this history provides insight and an understanding of the different ways scholars have approached this often volatile topic.

Chapters 2 and 3 provide a basic overview of genetics and evolutionary concepts that are vital to understanding how human variation is studied by anthropologists and other scientists. Chapter 2 explains basic terms and concepts such as transmission genetics, the structure and function of DNA, recombination, segregation, and mitochondrial DNA. Chapter 3 provides the population base for our understanding of human diversity by detailing Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, allele frequencies, and the evolutionary forces of mutation, natural selection, gene flow (migration), and genetic drift that shape the human genome. Following chapters focus on the specifics of human diversity using this evolutionary perspective.

Chapters 4 and 5 explore human diversity by focusing on what are known as the “classical markers” (in contrast to molecular markers) of human variation. These are the blood groups, serum proteins, and red cell enzymes.

No text on human variation would be complete without a discussion of hemoglobin variation (Chapter 6). Many introductory texts detail the relationship between malaria and the sickle cell trait, and this book is no exception. To end the examination of the “classical markers,” Chapter 7 explores the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) system and some other polymorphisms of anthropological interest such as phenylthiocarbamide tasting, cerumen diversity, and lactase variation.

Chapter 8 carries our exploration of human diversity to the molecular level by examining DNA markers (e.g., restriction fragment length polymorphisms and variable number of tandem repeats). The diversity and colonization of Oceania and a discussion . . .

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