What are the genetic adaptations that make us human?

That question motivates research in the Ruvolo lab. We use comparative genomic tools to understand how selection has molded the human genome in the context if primate evolution. We are broadly interested in the human evolutionary genetics. We currently focus on two areas of genetic evolution related to:

1. Pregnancy and Reproduction

2. Human Athletic Ability


The research on pregnancy is leading us into the area of the molecular evolution of cancer genes, because genes responsible for trophoblast invasion and successful pregnancy tend to be highly expressed in cancers (which also have invasive properties). One hypothesis is that there has been an evolutionary trade-off between having an invasive placenta (with all of the associated fitness advantages) and having an additional cancer burden compared to other species.


Humans are polymorphic for genes related to athletic ability. Athletes tend to excel either in “power” sports (like sprinting) or “endurance” sports (like running marathons). Endurance ability seems to be a newly derived trait for our species, given that the alleles for power are found in chimpanzees and other primate species while endurance alleles are new in humans.