Where Ideas Grow

Young Scientist Award given to i3S work on human genetics

PhD student Nicole Pedro won the Young Scientist Award from the Journal of Human Genetics for her article “Papuan mitochondrial genomes and the settlement of Sahul”, published in this scientific journal in 2020. Following this award, Nicole Pedro was invited to present the Award lecture of the 67th Annual Meeting of the Society of Human Genetics of Japan, which took place in Yokohama, Japan, from the 15th to the 17th of December.

Guided by researcher Luísa Pereira, leader of the Genetic Diversity group and co-supervised by François-Xavier Ricaut, from the University of Toulouse III – Paul Sabatier, and by Joana Barbosa Pereira, also from i3S - Nicole Pedro has focused her work on one of the oldest populations outside of Africa, located in Papua New Guinea.

“This population is characterized by one of the greatest linguistic and genetic diversities on the planet, but little is known about the initial phase of colonization (at least 55 thousand years ago) or about the subsequent dispersion and population structure”, explains the researcher. By analyzing the complete mitochondrial genomes of Papua New Guinea and other Oceanian populations, the team was able to reconstruct the phylogenetic and phylogeographic history of northern Sahul (present-day New Guinea and Australia).

"Our results support the hypothesis that North and South Sahul were colonized separately, albeit within the same time window, by two different groups of modern men, who were separated and isolated for about 20,000 years and then diverged genetically”, explains Nicole Pedro.

This award, adds the researcher, “increases my motivation to continue investigating what adaptations occurred in the genomes of Papua New Guinea colonizers to a unique environment at a global level”. In addition, she continues, “it is extremely gratifying to have received this award, not only because it represents the recognition of the work developed within the scope of my doctorate, but also because it gave me the opportunity to present it orally at an international congress in Japan”.