Lluis Quintana-Murci

The Human People On the genetic traces of migrations, crossbreeding and adaptations Publication date : October 6, 2021

Lluis Quintana Murci holds the Chair in Human Genomics and Evolution at the Collège de France. He is head of the Human Evolutionary Genetics Unit at the Institut Pasteur, where he was scientific director in 2016-2017. He is a specialist in the study of the diversity of the human genome.
Lluis Quintana Murci’s book is like a great fresco of life, a voyage in the time and space of the human, made possible by what geneticists now know. The author, a world-renowned biologist, shows how an increase in knowledge obtained in the past few decades has enabled a manipulation of entire genomes and, working at the level of populations, has transformed our knowledge of our species. It has shed light on the species’ great genetic variability, illuminating its demographic history and its adaptation to changing environments during its conquest of the planet, adapting to challenges encountered along the way, those associated with the climate, food resources, and pathogens.

Genetics is a vital resource for tracing the evolutionary and geographical journey of humans, from their African origin to the different stages of their conquest of the world. It fills a huge, breathtaking gap between the molecular micro-world and the population of the planet. A tool of extraordinary precision, from DNA tens of thousands of years old, it can establish the existence of human species that have disappeared today, and show how populations of homo sapiens have continuously blended, not only among themselves, in the course of population movemenst, but also with archaic humans such as the Neanderthals, some of whose genes are still present in our genome.

But it is not just a matter simply of knowing the human genome and what it reveals of the past – the evolution of the species and the history of the human population of the world -- there are many paths in genomics, and it has various medical applications. It enables a better understanding of humans’ genetic adaptation to pathogens, but also of the evolution of our immune system, differences in immunity among individuals and populations, and the various factors (genetic and environmental) participating in this variability -- decisive elements for better medical treatment.

The book gives an impressive panoramic view of the current state of geneticists’ knowledge, and of just how rich that knowledge is.