Kiwanis Club of Tempe -LIFE HISTORY AND THE SKELETON

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Kiwanis Club of Tempe -LIFE HISTORY AND THE SKELETON

“LIFE HISTORY AND THE SKELETON” Gina Agostini is a member of the faculty of the  School of Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University.  She is a post-doctoral fellow of Professor Alex Brewis-Slade, former dean of the school. Gina is helping Alex conduct research focusing on health and societal perceptions. She has also done workshops/demonstrations in human evolution/skeletal biology/primates, forensic science methods and ancient civilizations. She will draw from those topics to speak, Marni Anbar will introduce Gina.   Here’s what Gina does: I study what the skeleton can tell us about important aspects of being human at both very long and very short time scales (i.e., our evolutionary past to our unique life history) and in very large and very small samples (entire species to a single individual). I am especially interested in the long bones of the arms and legs because anthropologists of-ten use these to parse out information about behavior from skeletons we find in forensic, archaeological, or fossil contexts. My current work is very multifaceted, which means I study human and nonhuman primates in all sorts of contexts, from 3 million-year-old hominins to people from my local community. The biocultural aspect of my work centers on the relationship between the skeleton and health/occupational intensity in modern and living populations. Bone is a remarkably dynamic organ system that refashions itself continually in response to changes in its local environment (i.e., you). Any major change in health or physical activity (e.g., starting couch-to-5k, gaining weight, change in mobility with age) will stress your bones in new ways. This prompts them to change shape. In the past I have studied how changes in long bone structure over time reflect broad elements of population history (e.g., migration, colonialism, sociopolitical instability) and lifestyle (e.g., obesity, occupation). I am now continuing this work in the context of aging, obesity, and other aspects of life history. The evolutionary aspect of my work centers on the role that genes and developmental processes play in shaping long bones, in particular how different parts of long bones reveal information about genetic relationships between modern humans, other primates, and their extinct ancestors. This is important because long bones, being very dense, preserve well in archaeological and fossil records. However, they are often quite fragmented. By investigating which parts of these bones best reflect genetic signals, we can target those regions to reconstruct relationships be-tween species/populations, and therefore better understand the path of primate and human evolution and the taxonomic affiliation (species) of newly discovered fossils.

Noon, Thursday, Sept. 14th, Shalimar CC

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