CEM Seminar- Ajit Varki
Professor of Medicine and Cellular & Molecular Medicine Co-Director, Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny (CARTA) Co-Director, Glycobiology Research and Training Center (GRTC)
University of California San Diego
Adventures in anthropogeny: from molecules to mind
The surfaces of all vertebrate cells are covered with a dense and complex array of glycan chains that often terminate in sialic acids, which serve diverse roles in biology, evolution, and disease. We have discovered multiple differences in sialic acid biology between humans and our closest evolutionary cousins, the “great apes”––signatures of events during the last few million years of hominin evolution, that appear relevant to understanding multiple aspects of human origins, physiology and disease. This work also triggered my broader interest in anthropogeny (explaining human origins) and a “Mind over Reality” theory, a novel evolutionary explanation for uniquely human characteristics, relevant to the origin of modern humans (DENIAL: Twelve Books, Hachette, New York 2013).
Ajit Varki's research interests are currently focused on a family of sugar molecules called the Sialic Acids, and their roles in biology, evolution and disease. He is particularly intrigued to find multiple differences in sialic acid biology between humans and our closest evolutionary cousins, the great apes. These differences are a signature of the multiple cellular and molecular events that occurred during the last few million years of human evolution, and are relevant to understanding several aspects of the current human condition, both in health and disease.