by Yaffi Spodek | Tuesday, Nov 26, 2019

How do populations evolve over time and how can this knowledge help us going forward? A researcher at the FAU College of Engineering and Computer Science has received a $255,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to delve into this topic.

Michael DeGiorgio, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, is using advanced DNA sequencing technology and population genomics to elucidate the demographic and adaptive history of the indigenous people of North America.

“The comprehensive study design of this project will utilize genome-level data from participating indigenous communities throughout North America, which will advance our understanding of ancient migrations and adaptations to local environments, ranging from the Subarctic to the Sonoran Desert,” said Dr. DeGiorgio. “Comparative analyses between tribes will provide a unique perspective on the local evolutionary history of the Americas, with an additional emphasis on the effects of European colonization, which resulted in devasting population declines from a variety of factors, including disease and warfare.”

The grant is titled “Collaborative Research: Understanding the Deep Ancestry of the Indigenous People of North America.” Its findings will be contextualized in a broader demographic framework to provide a rich characterization of the evolutionary adaptations identified within these groups, while clarifying demographic histories complicated by disease and colonization.

Results will be shared with participants from seven indigenous nations throughout North America and also made available via a dedicated analysis server. The project will also enhance the successful Summer internship for Indigenous peoples in Genomics (SING) workshop by creating an alumni conference that will take place in the summer of 2021. The conference will include a public event with a focus on presentations of social and ethical aspects of genomics research with indigenous communities, as well as a workshop to tackle relevant issues, such as the development of mutually beneficial agreements between researchers and communities.

“The SING outreach program is particularly significant, since it aims to introduce individuals from Native American communities – regardless of their educational background – to what scientists can currently do with an individual’s genomic data, and as well as the ethical, legal, and social issues associated with genomics research,” said Dr. DeGiorgio. “This project seeks to also directly engage indigenous communities in future genomics research, by recruiting SING participants to obtain graduate training in genomics, and ultimately providing an avenue to support the development of future indigenous genomics scientists.”