Curriculum and statement of interests

Born: January 31st, 1955 in Adria (Italy)
Citizenship: Italian
Address: Dipartimento di Biologia ed Evoluzione, Università di Ferrara
Via L. Borsari 46 I-44100 Ferrara, Italy
Phone: (+39 0532) 455312
Fax: (+39 0532) 249761
Fields of interest: Population genetics, Evolution, Molecular evolution, Human genetics, Anthropology
Current position: Professor of Genetics

NUOVO: Gli africani siamo noi. Alle origini dell'uomo

NUOVO: Gli africani siamo noi. Alle origini dell'uomoIn libreria a settembre 2016


In libreria da febbraio 2014.

Statement of interests

Some people in big science think, and even (which is worse) say that reconstructing evolutionary history is just telling stories. They are wrong, of course. However, we must admit that being able to turn our observations and our statistics into an interesting, pleasant narrative is part of the fun of this work. In our research we analyse population data in the context of population genetic models. The overall goal is to better understand the evolutionary processes affecting past populations, especially human populations. By combining genetic information with data from diverse fields, such as palaeontology, archaeology and linguistics, we hope to find evidence of phenomena that otherwise would be difficult to identify and locate in time.

At present, we are interested in estimating and interpreting the amount of genetic variation existing within and among major human groups, which turns out to be important not only for its own sake (the word race enjoys a surprising popularity, even among the educated and the liberal; but does it refer to any identifiable biological reality in our species? We think it doesn't) but also in applied research, from pharmacogenomics to forensic science.

Understanding human diversity and population structure is essential for reconstructing past evolutionary and demographic changes. For that end, we are developing statistical methods to describe in a quantitative, reproducible manner the geographic patterns of DNA diversity, and we are applying them to the study of both modern and ancient individuals' DNAs. We use computer simulations and Bayesian methods to test the genealogical relationships among ancient and past populations, from Neandertals through the inhabitants of pre-classical Europe, up to modern times. For 2012 we are planning a broad comparison across time of historical and modern populations, trying to understand the levels of genealogical continuity between past and current people. In particular, for reasons in part scientific in part personal, we are very fond of the Etruscans.

Some of these studies seem to have intriguing implications. Patterns of DNA diversity suggest that only the female, but not the male, population sizes increased in the Upper Pleistocene. Although most women would doubtless confirm that the number of sensitive, intelligent men with a non-oversized ego has been stable or declining lately, the apparently low and constant male population size along much of our prehistory calls for an explanation; we are seeking it.

Finally, we largely use public funds, and we think it is our duty to inform the public on the results of our research, and on science in general. For examples of these activities, follow these links (in Italian only, sorry).

(It goes without saying that haplogroups are not populations, gene trees are not population trees, and the age of a haplogroup has got nothing to do with the age of the population where it has been found).

Education and professional experience

1978. Degree in Biological Sciences, University of Ferrara (110/110 cum laude); Thesis: "Chemical Mutagenesis and sex-ratio: a test on Drosophila"; advisor, professor I. Barrai.
1978-1980. Full-time Trade Union activist, Ufficio Studi CGIL, Ferrara
1980-1981. Teacher of Mathematics and Natural Sciences in the High School.
1981-1983. Research assistant, Italian National Research Council, Project: "Preventive Medicine".
1983-1988. Assistant professor of Genetics, Institute of Zoology, University of  Ferrara.
1988-1992. Assistant professor of Human Genetics, Department of Biology, School of Medicine, University of Padova.
1992-1996. Associate professor of Population Genetics, Department of Statistical Sciences, University of Bologna.
1996-2001. Associate professor of Genetics, Department of Biology, University of Ferrara.
2001-present. Professor of Genetics, Department of Biology, University of Ferrara.
2001-present. Coordinator, Ph.D. programme in Evolutionary and Environmental Biology, University of Ferrara.
2009-present. Director, Ph.D. School of Life, Health and Environmental Sciences, University of Ferrara.

Visiting positions

1987-1991. (24 months overall) Department of Ecology & Evolution, State University of New York, Stony Brook; Robert R. Sokalís laboratory.
1995. Department of Biology, Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London; Richard Nicholsí laboratory.
2001. Department of Anthropology, University of South Florida, Tampa. Lorena Madrigalís laboratory

Teaching (2015-2016)

Genetica (9 crediti)
Genetica di Popolazioni (6 crediti)