Population genetics

Published on March 24, 2011 Updated on November 5, 2014   34 min

A selection of talks on Genetics & Epigenetics

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Hello. My name is Murray Cox and I'm a research scientist at Massey University in New Zealand. Today, I'm going to talk about population genetics and more specifically how population genetics can be used to study human evolution.
So what exactly is population genetics? Well, the field of population genetics explains how and why genetic variation exists within a species. Population genetics provides an evolutionary framework that lets us model how genetic variants change in frequency through time and space. This really involves two different things. Firstly, sampling genetic information from a large number of individuals. And secondly, developing a mathematical way to represent and study that genetic variation.
Population genetics has a long history. Variation within a species was important to Charles Darwin. And a large part of his 1859 book, On the Origin of Species, was spent talking about the subject. Darwin was particularly interested in the wide range of variation that we see in domesticated species, His favorite seems to have been pigeons. However, Darwin didn't know anything about genetics. In 1859, no one did. Darwin could see that animal breeds weren't all the same. But he didn't understand the basic biology behind those differences.
Population genetics really first started in 1900, when Carl Correns, Erich von Tschermak, and Hugo de Vries all independently made the link between biological variation and genetic inheritance. Thomas Hunt Morgan extended research on entire populations of organisms in the 1910s. However, all of this work was experimental. The research initially involved crossbreeding plants. But later dealt with fruit flies too, a somewhat strange choice of biological system. But a very tractable organism and one that is still studied widely today.