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Plan II Honors

Deborah A. Bolnick

Associate ProfessorPh.D., University of California, Davis

Deborah A. Bolnick



Anthropological genetics and genomics, ancient DNA, human biological variation, race, Native American population history, human population genetics, genetic ancestry testing, paleoepigenetics


Bolnick's research focuses on human genetic variation and how it is shaped by culture, language, history, and geography. She uses both ancient and modern DNA to reconstruct Native American prehistory. She is also interested in genetic ancestry testing and how it affects our understanding of race and ethnicity. On the subject of genetic ancestry testing, she has been widely interviewed by the popular press, including the PBS News Hour, BBC World Radio, and the Wall Street Journal. Bolnick's research was featured in a 2007 UT homepage feature story, Deep Roots?


T C 357 • Race And Science

42420 • Spring 2015
Meets TTH 1100am-1230pm SAC 5.118

Course Number: TC 357

Title: Race and Science 

Instructor: Deborah Bolnick, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology 

Description: This course will examine the scientific study of race.  We will explore the ways that race has been conceptualized over time, and we will evaluate how race is constructed and understood in various disciplines, including anthropology, biology, psychology, sociology, medicine, and forensics.  In this class, we will trace the history of racial science and scientific racism, considering the origins, applications, and social impact of race science (especially in connection with European colonialism, segregation and the civil rights movement in the United States, and the eugenics movement in both the United States and Nazi Germany).  We will also draw on recent scientific research to evaluate the nature and significance of human biological diversity.  As part of this unit, students will gain hands-on experience analyzing human skeletal variation and human genetic diversity (including some analyses of their own DNA).  We will also discuss popular documentaries as we consider what genetic data tell us about ancestry and race.  Finally, we will explore a number of recent scientific controversies – the use of race in medical diagnosis and treatment, claims of IQ differences between racial groups, possible racial differences in athletic aptitude, and the intersection of race, crime, and forensics.  In each case, we will carefully and critically evaluate the scientific evidence, and consider how the data have been interpreted in scientific journals and by the media.  By the end of this course, students will understand the history of race science and the patterns of biological variation that exist today.  They will also learn to critically evaluate scientific research and news stories about race and science, and they will develop effective strategies for discussing and conveying the complex nature of race.

Course Requirements:

(1) Four short papers (30%). 

Each student will write a 1-2 page position statement describing his or her views about race at the beginning and end of the semester (5% each). 

Each student will also write two 4-6 page papers analyzing material presented in readings or films (10% each).

(2) Class participation and helping to lead discussion (30%).

(3) Research Project (35%). 

Each student will choose a relevant topic to explore in greater depth over the course of the semester. A 2 page research proposal and bibliography (5%) will be due in the second month of class. Students will submit the first 7-8 pages of their research papers for instructor and peer feedback partway through the semester (10%). They will then revise what they have written and complete their papers. The final 15 page research paper (20%) will be due at the end of the semester.

(4) Research Presentation (5%). Each student will give a 10 minute oral presentation on the subject of their research paper. This course will carry the writing and independent inquiry flags. 

Biography: Deborah Bolnick received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis in 2005.  She studies the patterns of human genetic variation and how they are shaped by culture, history, language, and geography.  She is also interested in how genetic ancestry tests influence and are influenced by contemporary American understandings of race, ethnicity, and identity.



Articles in Peer-Reviewed Journals

Raff JA, Bolnick DA. In press. Does mitochondrial haplogroup X indicate ancient trans-Atlantic migration to the Americas? A critical re-evaluation. Paleoamerica

Smith RWA, Monroe C, Bolnick DA. 2015. Detection of cytosine methylation in ancient DNA from five Native American populations using bisulfite sequencing. PLoS ONE 10(5): e0125344.

Reynolds AW, Raff JA, Bolnick DA, Cook DC, Kaestle FA. 2015. Ancient DNA from the Schild site in Illinois: implications for the Mississippian transition in the Lower Illinois river valley. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 156:434-448.

Tofanelli S, Brisighelli F, Anagnostou P, Busby G, Ferri G, Thomas M, Taglioli L, Rudan I, Zemunik T, Hayward C, Bolnick DA, Romano V, Cali F, Luiselli D, Shepherd GB, Tusa S, Facella A. 2015. The Greeks in the West: genetic signatures of the Hellenic colonization in southern Italy and Sicily. European Journal of Human Genetics. doi:10.1038/ejhg.2015. 124 

Kemp BM, Lindo J, Bolnick DA, Malhi RS, Chatters JC. 2015. Response to Prüfer and Meyer comment on “Late Pleistocene human skeleton and mtDNA link Paleoamericans and modern Native Americans”. Science 347:835.

Fujimura JH, Bolnick DA, Rajagopalan R, Kaufman J, Lewontin RC, Duster T, Ossorio P, Marks J. 2014. Clines without classes: how to make sense of human variation. Sociological Theory 32:208-227. 

Chatters JC, Kennett DJ, Stafford TW, Asmerom Y, Kemp BM, Polyak V, Blank AN, Beddows P, Reinhart E, Arroyo-Cabrales J, Bolnick DA, Malhi RS, Erreguerena PL, Morell-Hart S, Rissollo D. 2014. Late Pleistocene human skeleton and mtDNA links Paleoamericans and modern Native Americans. Science 344:750-754. 

Kennett DJ, Asmerom Y, Kemp BM, Polyak V, Bolnick DA, Malhi RS, Culleton BJ. 2014. Early Americans: misstated results. Science 345:390.

Veilleux CC, Jacobs RL, Cummings ME, Louis EE, Bolnick DA. 2014. Opsin genes and visual ecology in a secondarily nocturnal primate. International Journal of Primatology 35:88-107.

Raff JA, Bolnick DA. 2014. Genetic roots of the first Americans. Nature 506:162-163.

Villanea FA, Bolnick DA, Monroe C, Worl R, Cambra R, Leventhal A, Kemp BM. 2013. Evolution of a specific O allele (O1vG542A) supports unique ancestry of Native Americans. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 151:649-657.

Veilleux CC, Louis EE, Bolnick DA. 2013. Nocturnal light environments influence color vision and signatures of selection on the OPN1SW opsin gene in nocturnal lemurs. Molecular Biology and Evolution 30:1420-1437.

Mata-Míguez J, Overholtzer L, Rodríguez-Alegría ER, Kemp BM, and Bolnick DA. 2012. The genetic impact of Aztec imperialism: ancient mitochondrial DNA evidence from Xaltocan, Mexico. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 149:504-516.

Bolnick DA, Bonine HM, Mata-Miguez J, Kemp BM, Snow MH, LeBlanc SA. 2012. Non-destructive sampling of human skeletal remains yields ancient nuclear and mitochondrial DNA. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 147:293-300. 

Raff JA*, Bolnick DA*, Tackney J, O’Rourke DH. 2011. Ancient DNA perspectives on American colonization and population history. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 146:503-514.                                                               
* equal contribution; one of five most accessed articles in AJPA in 2011 

Lee SS, Bolnick DA, Duster T, Ossorio P, TallBear K. 2009. The illusive gold standard in genetic ancestry testing. Science 325:38-39.

Veilleux CC, Bolnick DA. 2009. Opsin gene polymorphism predicts trichromacy in a cathemeral lemur. American Journal of Primatology71:86-90. 

Bolnick DA. 2009. Comment on “Color, race, and genomic ancestry in Brazil: dialogues between anthropology and genetics” by Ricardo Santos et al. Current Anthropology 50:802-803.

Halverson MS, Bolnick DA. 2008. An ancient DNA test of a founder effect in Native American ABO blood group frequencies. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 137:342-347.

Bolnick DA, Fullwiley D, Marks J, Reverby SM, Kahn J, TallBear K, Reardon J, Cooper RS, Duster T, Fujimura JH, Kaufman JS, Morning A, Nelson A, Ossorio P. 2008. Response to “The legitimacy of genetic ancestry tests” by Tony Frudakis. Science 319:1039-1040.    
[Reprinted in: Park ME, editor. 2009. Biological Anthropology: An Introductory Reader, 6th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.]

Bolnick DA, Fullwiley D, Duster T, Cooper RS, Fujimura JH, Kahn J, Kaufman JS, Marks J, Morning A, Nelson A, Ossorio P, Reardon J, Reverby SM, TallBear K. 2007. The science and business of genetic ancestry testing. Science 318:399-400.    
[Reprinted in: Park ME, editor. 2009. Biological Anthropology: An Introductory Reader, 6th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.]

Bolnick DA, Smith DG. 2007. Migration and social structure among the Hopewell: evidence from ancient DNA. American Antiquity 72:627-644. 

Kemp BM, Malhi RS, McDonough J, Bolnick DA, Eshleman JA, Rickards O, Martinez-Labarga C, Johnson JR, Lorenz JG, Dixon EJ, Fifield TE, Heaton TH, Worl R, Smith DG. 2007. Genetic analysis of early Holocene skeletal remains from Alaska and implications for the peopling of the Americas. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 132:605-621. 

Bolnick DA, Bolnick DI, Smith DG. 2006. Asymmetric male and female genetic histories among Native Americans from eastern North America. Molecular Biology and Evolution 23:2161-2174. 

Bolnick DA, Shook BAS, Campbell L, Goddard I. 2004. Problematic use of Greenberg’s linguistic classification of the Americas in studies of Native American genetic variation. American Journal of Human Genetics 75:519-522. 

Bolnick DA, Smith DG. 2003. Unexpected patterns of mitochondrial DNA variation among Native Americans from the southeastern United States. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 122:336-354. 

Weale ME*, Weiss DA*, Jager RF, Bradman N, Thomas MG. 2002. Y chromosome evidence for Anglo-Saxon mass migration. Molecular Biology and Evolution 19:1008-1021.                * indicates equal contribution 

Malhi RS, Eshleman JA, Greenberg JA, Weiss DA, Schultz BA, Kemp BM, Kaestle FA, Lorenz JG, Johnson JR, Smith DG. 2002. The structure of diversity within New World mitochondrial DNA haplogroups: implications for the prehistory of North America. American Journal of Human Genetics 70:905-919. 

Wilson JF, Weiss DA, Richards M, Thomas MG, Bradman N, Goldstein DB. 2001. Genetic evidence for different male and female roles during cultural transitions in the British Isles. Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences USA 98:5078-5083. 

Nebel A, Filon D, Weiss DA, Weale M, Faerman M, Oppenheim A, Thomas MG. 2000. High-resolution Y chromosome haplotypes of Israeli and Palestinian Arabs reveal geographic substructure and substantial overlap with haplotypes of Jews. Human Genetics 107:630-641. 

Thomas MG, Parfitt T, Weiss DA, Skorecki K, Wilson JF, Roux M, Bradman N, Goldstein DB. 2000. Y chromosomes traveling south: the Cohen modal haplotype and the origins of the Lemba – the “black Jews of Southern Africa.” American Journal of Human Genetics 66:674-686.


Chapters in Peer-Reviewed Edited Volumes

Feder KL, Barnhart TA, Bolnick DA, Lepper BT. In press. Lessons learned from Lost Civilizations. In: Card JJ, Anderson DS, editors. Lost City, Found Pyramid: Understanding Alternative Archaeologies and Pseudoscientific Practices. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press. 

Bolnick DA. 2011. Continuity and change in anthropological perspectives on migration: insights from molecular anthropology. In: Cabana GS, Clark JJ, editors. Rethinking Anthropological Perspectives on Migration. pp 263-277. 

Bolnick DA. 2008. Individual ancestry inference and the reification of race as a biological phenomenon. In: Koenig B, Lee S, Richardson S, editors. Revisiting Race in a Genomic Age. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. pp 70-88.    
[Reprinted in: Machery E, Downes S, editors. 2013. Arguing about Human Nature. New York: Routledge. pp 386-396.]


Popular Articles (Not Peer-Reviewed) 

Bolnick DA, Feder KL, Lepper BT, Barnhart TA. 2012. Civilizations lost and found: fabricating history. Part 3: real messages in DNA. Skeptical Inquirer 36:48-51. 

Lepper BT, Feder KL, Barnhart TA, Bolnick DA. 2011. Civilizations lost and found: fabricating history. Part 2: false messages in stone. Skeptical Inquirer 35:48-54. 

Feder KL, Lepper BT, Barnhart TA, Bolnick DA. 2011. Civilizations lost and found: fabricating history. Part 1: an alternate reality. Skeptical Inquirer 35:38-45. 

Bolnick DA. 2009. Ancient DNA from Hopewell sites in Ohio and Illinois. Hopewell Happenings: 7.  (Annual Newsletter of the Hopewell Culture National Historic Park) 

TallBear K, Bolnick DA. 2004. “Native American DNA” tests: what are the risks for tribes? The Native Voice, December 3-17.  
[Reprinted in: Darnovsky M and Obasogie O, editors. In press (2016). Beyond Bioethics: Toward a New Biopolitics. Berkeley: University of California Press.]


Under Contract

Bolnick DA, Miró-Herrans AT, Raff JA, Reynolds AW, Springs LC. Under contract [2016]. Native American genomics and population histories. Annual Review of Anthropology. (Invited submission) 

Relethford JH, Bolnick DA. Under contract. Reflections of the Past: How Human History is Revealed in Our Genes. Second edition. Westview Press.


Research in the Bolnick Genomic Anthropology Lab bridges anthropology and genetics, and falls into four categories:

  1. Studies of Genomic Diversity and Population History in the Americas
  2. Paleoepigenetic Research
  3. Research on Genetic Ancestry, Race, and ELSI Issues
  4. Additional Research Projects  

See below for more information about each area of research. 


Studies of Genomic Diversity and Population History in the Americas

Patterns of human genetic variation can yield important insights into the evolutionary history and current population structure of our species. In our research, we examine patterns of variation across the entire genome as well as in targeted genomic regions, such as the maternally-inherited mitochondrial DNA, paternally-inherited Y chromosome, and specific autosomal loci (ex. ABO blood group and immune genes). In collaboration with biologists, anthropologists from a variety of subdisciplines, and members of indigenous communities, we look for genetic signatures of the evolutionary, demographic, and cultural factors that have shaped human biodiversity and population history in the Americas.

Current Research Projects:

– characterizing genome-wide diversity patterns in ancient and/or contemporary populations from the Alaskan North Slope, the Midwestern and Southern United States, central Mexico, coastal Belize, and northwestern Argentina

– reconstructing region-specific population histories and changes in the Native American gene pool over time

– testing archaeological and ethnohistorical hypotheses about migration, population replacement, and other demographic changes in ancient times
   (ex. did the expansion and collapse of the Toltec, Tepanec, and Aztec states in central Mexico have a demographic and genetic impact on local populations?)

– evaluating whether sociocultural and evolutionary changes over the last millenium altered the genetic structure of Native American populations

– assessing the impact of European contact and colonial practices on genomic diversity in the Americas
   (e.g., how did post-contact selection, migration (admixture), and genetic drift affect genetic variation across the genome, including at immune genes and HLA loci?)

– analyzing ancient DNA from early (pre-8000 BP) human inhabitants of North and South America to investigate the initial peopling of the Americas 


Paleoepigenetic Research

In addition to analyzing variation in the DNA itself, we also look at chemical modifications to DNA (cytosine methylation) that influence when genes are expressed. Studies of contemporary populations have shown that certain life experiences influence epigenetic patterns, so analysis of these patterns in ancient DNA (paleoepigenetics) may help us reconstruct individual experiences in ancient human societies. We are currently working to (a) reconstruct genome-wide epigenetic patterns in a pre-Hispanic population from the central Peruvian Andes, (b) assess the DNA-level effects of trauma, violence, and famine experienced by some members of this society, and (c) evaluate how social inequalities mediated the epigenetic consequences of traumatic experiences in the ancient world. This project has the potential to provide important new insights into the lives of individuals in ancient times.


Research on Genetic Ancestry, Race, and ELSI Issues

Genetic ancestry inference has emerged as an important area of study over the last 15 years, and it has given rise to a profitable commercial industry. We have investigated how genetic ancestry testing influences and is influenced by American understandings of race, ethnicity, and identity, both in scientific studies and in commercial tests marketed to the public. We also evaluate what these studies/tests convey about human biodiversity, race, and the evolutionary history of our species. More generally, we are also interested in the ethical, legal, social, and political implications of genetic research.


Additional Research Projects

We contribute to a variety of additional research projects, partly through our collaborations with others who want to incorporate genetic or ancient DNA analyses into their research. For example, we have used ancient DNA analyses to investigate the dietary content of human paleofeces (coprolites) from the U.S. Southwest. In another project, we have investigated the evolution of color vision and the pattern of opsin (visual pigment) gene variation in nocturnal lemurs.





Ancient DNA Lab 

Location:  PAT 417
Phone Number:  512.232.4139

Modern DNA/Post-PCR Lab

Location:  SAC 5.168
Phone Number:  512.471.2781

Lab Members

Postdoctoral Researchers

Dr. Aida Miro-Hérrans
Dr. Carrie Veilleux
Dr. Ryan Schmidt (starting November 2015)

Graduate Students

Jaime Mata-Míguez (Anthropology)
Rick Smith (Anthropology)     
Lauren Springs (Anthropology)
Austin Reynolds (Ecology, Evolution and Behavior)


Sana Saboowala
Christine Ku
Samantha Archer

Former Lab Members

Dr. Jennifer Raff, Postdoctoral Researcher (2013-2015); now Assistant 
      Professor of Anthropology at the University of Kansas
Melissa Halverson, Graduate Student (M.A. 2006)
Olivia Starich, Undergraduate
Robert Vandevere, Undergraduate
Krystin Samms, Undergraduate
Kelly Manrriquez, Undergraduate
Mareike Janiak, Undergraduate
Kelly Chapman, Undergraduate
Maeve Cavanaugh, Undergraduate
Jenna Strawbridge, Undergraduate
Blake Kincaid, Undergraduate
Brianne Herrera, Undergraduate
Julie Perez, Undergraduate



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