Human Population Genetics Bio A 482

Human Population Genetics BIO A 482 (Autumn 2013)

Darryl J. Holman
235 Denny Hall

Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Final


This course surveys population genetics theory as applied to the study of micro-evolutionary changes in human populations. We will examine the effects of mutation, selection, inbreeding, gene flow, and genetic drift on changes in allele frequency in populations. Much of the course is about formal (i.e. mathematical) models for changes in allele frequencies over time, which will then be used to understand human evolution on ecological and evolutionary time scales, examine the ways in which genetic variability has been used to study affinities among different groups, and reconstruct the past dynamics of human populations.

The objectives of this course are to: (1) provide a solid foundation for the genetic basis of evolution; (2) introduce tools, concepts, and ways of thinking about quantitative problems in biological anthropology and evolutionary biology; (3) provide sufficient historical, intellectual, and mathematical background so that you can evaluate contemporary research in anthropological genetics.


MWF, 10:30-11:50 217 Denny Hall.

The final exam is scheduled for 8:30-10:20 a.m. Monday, Dec 9 in the classroom.

I will usually be available briefly after class for office hours. Other times can be arranged. Feel free to contact me by phone or email with questions or to set up an appointment.


The textbook is Hartl and Clark, Principles of Population Genetics, 4th edition, 2007 (Sinauer Associates, Inc.). Be certain you get the 4th edition as it differs substantially from previous editions. The textbook is oriented toward general population genetics with a final chapter on human population genetics. Additional readings on anthropological topics will supplement the text. These readings will illustrate the principles discussed in lecture and the text. Please finish weekly readings by Wednesday each week. Please finish weekly readings by Wednesday each week. Paper readings are available here (UW NetID required).


There will be 7 problem sets (8% each) that will make up 56% of your final grade, one midterm exam (12%), and a cumulative final exam (20%). Additionally, 12% of your grade will be based on a short paper described below.

Problem sets

Short problem sets will be assigned most weeks. Each problem set is worth about 8% of your final grade. The problems will be based on lecture material, textbook readings, and paper readings. Problem sets will be made up of both analytical problems and short written answers. I encourage you to work in groups on the problem sets. If so, use the opportunity to ensure a complete understanding of the problems-you will see similar problems on the exams. You may use any references (other books, readings, web pages) to work on the problems. Typically, problem sets will be oriented toward solving numerical problems and interpreting the results. Problem sets will typically be handed out on Friday and are due at the start of class on the following Wednesday unless otherwise noted in the syllabus.

In part, the problem sets test your ability to do the work under time constraints. Therefore, the grade of a late problem set will depreciate by 10% per day, including any fraction of a day late. For example, if you would have gotten a 95% on the problem set, it would depreciate to 85.5% for being one day late, 77% by for 2 days late, 69% for day 3 and so on.


Two exams will be given in the course: a midterm and a final exam. The midterm will make up 12% of your grade and the final exam will make up 20% of your grade. Each exam will have two parts. The first part will be short essay questions covering concepts and ideas. The second part will be problems similar to those on the problem sets. The final exam will cover material from the entire course. Exams will be closed-book. However, you will be allowed to make up one sheet of notes (double sided) for use during the exam. A hand calculator is strongly recommended for the exams.


A short research paper on a topic in human (or primate) population genetics is required. A list of paper topics will be handed out mid quarter. For this assignment, you must work on your own (i.e. no group papers).

The paper will be from 3 to 5 pages long. It should (1) summarize the recent literature in anthropological genetics on the topic, and (2) provides a brief synthesis of the material. The goal, of course, is for you to immerse yourself in recent literature in human population genetics. The papers are due by the last day of class. The format is 3 to 5 pages single sided, double-spaced, using an 11 point proportional font (Times-Roman preferred), with 1 inch margins all around. A bibliography (with no page limit) should be included beyond the 3-5 pages of text. You should use material from at least six original journal research articles for your paper, but there is no upper limit for the number of references you can cite.

Topics and Schedule

Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Final

Week 1: Introduction to human population genetics (Sept 25, 27)

Week 2: Genetic and phenotypic variation (Sept 30, Oct 2, 4)

Week 3: Organization of genetic variation (Oct 7, 9, 11)

Week 4: Random Genetic Drift (Oct 14, 16, 18)

  • Problem set 4 distributed (Friday)

  • Week 5: Mutation and the Neutral Theory (Oct 21, 23, 25)

    Week 6: Natural selection (Oct 28, 30, Nov 1)

    Week 7: More natural selection and Inbreeding (Nov 4, 6, 8)

    Week 8: Population Subdivision and Migration (Nov 13, 15)

    Week 9: Molecular Population Genetics (Nov 18, 20, 22)

    Week 10: Human Population Genetics (Nov 25, 27)

    Week 11: Evolution of the Genome (Dec 2, 4, 6)

    Final Exam: 8:30-10:20 a.m. Monday, Dec 9 in the class room.

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