Deborah A. Bolnick

Faculty Research AssociatePh.D., University of California, Davis

Associate Professor of Anthropology
Deborah A. Bolnick



Anthropological genetics and genomics, ancient DNA, Native American population history, human population genetics, human biological variation, race, paleoepigenetics, ethical/legal/social implications of genetic research


Deborah Bolnick received her B.A. in Anthropology from Yale University (1999) and her Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of California, Davis (2005). She is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology, and is also affiliated with the Population Research Center and the Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior (EEB) graduate program at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of anthropology, genetics, and biodemography.

Research Interests

Dr. Bolnick uses recent advances in molecular genetics to investigate the evolutionary history and biological diversity of human populations. In her research, she considers genomic data in conjunction with other lines of anthropological and biological evidence, and works in three main areas: 

  1. She studies Native American genomic variation and how it has been shaped by culture, history, geography, and evolution. She analyzes DNA from both ancient and contemporary populations to track changes in genetic diversity over time and to reconstruct the evolutionary and demographic histories of Native American populations. As part of this research, she works closely with indigenous individuals in the southern U.S.
  2. Her lab group examines epigenetic patterns in ancient DNA (paleoepigenetics) and uses those patterns to investigate the impact of social inequalities and certain life experiences in ancient human societies. 
  3. She is interested in the ethical, legal, social, and political implications of genetic research, including the ways in which genetic ancestry studies intersect with ideas about race, ethnicity, and identity.   

Teaching Interests

Dr. Bolnick teaches courses on Anthropological GeneticsHuman VariationRace and ScienceHuman and Primate Evolutionary Genetics, and Ancient and Environmental DNA.


Articles in Peer-Reviewed Journals

Raff JA, Bolnick DA. 2015. Does mitochondrial haplogroup X indicate ancient trans-Atlantic migration to the Americas? A critical re-evaluation. Paleoamerica 1:297-304. 

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 nocturnal folivorous lemur. 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 

- reconstructing kinship relationships among individuals from the same burial population


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

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



Lab News

December 2015

- Rick Smith's paleoepigenetic research is highlighted in Nautilus magazine

November 2015

- Rick Smith and Deborah Bolnick organize two sessions on "Identity, Belonging, and the Biopolitics of DNA in Colonial Modernity" at the American Anthropological Association annual meeting

- Rick Smith, Lauren Springs, and Deborah Bolnick present at the American Anthropological Association annual meeting

- Jennifer Raff and Deborah Bolnick publish an article on "Does Mitochondrial Haplogroup X Indicate Ancient Trans-Atlantic Migration to the Americas? A Critical Re-evaluation" in Paleoamerica (Raff and Bolnick 2015)

- Ryan Schmidt joins the Bolnick Lab as a postdoctoral researcher

- Jaime Mata-Míguez is awarded the 2015-2016 Rhonda L. Andrews Memorial Award from the UT Department of Anthropology

October 2015

- Deborah Bolnick presents at the IPinCH symposium on "DNA and Indigeneity: the Changing Role of Genetics in Indigenous Rights, Tribal Belonging, and Repatration"

- Jaime Mata-Míguez's research is highlighted in the UT College of Liberal Arts Annual Impact Report (on p. 30)

- Rick Smith presents at the 2015 Texas Association of Biological Anthropologists annual meeting and wins the student prize for the best podium presentation

- Bolnick Lab hosts a genetics and STEM workshop for Hispanic high school students from Hart, TX

- Rick Smith is awarded a Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant 

September 2015

- Austin Reynolds is awarded a Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant from the UT EEB Graduate Program 

August 2015

- Jennifer Raff begins her new position as an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Kansas

- Jennifer Raff and colleagues publish an article on “Mitochondrial Diversity of Inupiat People from the Alaskan North Slope Provides Evidence for the Origins of the Paleo- and Neo-Eskimo Peoples” in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology (Raff et al. 2015)

July 2015

- Aida Miró-Herrans and Austin Reynolds present at the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution annual meeting

- Lauren Springs presents at the Belize Archaeology and Anthropology Symposium

June 2015

- Rick Smith gives an invited talk at the Christian Scholars' Conference

- The PNAS Journal Club Blog and other media sources cover Smith et al.’s PLOS ONE article on ancient epigenetics

May 2015

- Rick Smith, Deborah Bolnick, and Cara Monroe (Washington State University) publish an article on “Detection of Cytosine Methylation in Ancient DNA from Five Native American Populations Using Bisulfite Sequencing” in PLOS ONE  (Smith et al. 2015)

April 2015

- Jennifer Raff publishes a review of Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance in Human Biology

March 2015

- Austin Reynolds, Jennifer Raff, Deborah Bolnick, and colleagues publish an article on “Ancient DNA from the Schild Site in Illinois: Implications for the Mississippian Transition in the Lower Illinois River Valley” in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology  (Reynolds et al. 2015)

- Jaime Mata-Míguez, Jennifer Raff, Aida Miró-Herrans, and Deborah Bolnick present at the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA) annual meeting

- Jaime Mata-Míguez wins the Outstanding Student Poster Award from the American Association of Anthropological Genetics for his presentation at the AAPA meeting

- Rick Smith presents at the New Directions in Anthropology conference

December 2014

- Jennifer Raff and colleagues publish an article on “Comparative Analysis of the Human Saliva Microbiome from Different Climate Zones: Alaska, Germany, and Africa” in BMC Microbiology (Li et al. 2014)

November 2014

- Rick Smith is interviewed on Native American Calling as part of their episode on Epigenetics and Historical Trauma

October 2014

- Jennifer Raff presents at the Texas Archaeological Society annual meeting

- Deborah Bolnick and colleagues publish an article on “Clines Without Classes: How to Make Sense of Human Variation” in Sociological Theory (Fujimura et al. 2014)

August 2014

- Aida Miró-Herrans is awarded a NSF SBE Postdoctoral Research Fellowship

July 2014

- Jaime Mata-Míguez is interviewed about his ancient DNA research on Efervesciencia on Galician Public Radio (Spain)

June 2014

- the Bolnick Lab hosts the Summer Internship for Native Americans in Genomics at UT

- Lauren Springs and colleagues publish an article on “Murder Bottles, Grey Matter and Treasure: Results of the 2012 Field Season on St. George’s Caye” in Research Reports in Belizean Archaeology (Garber et al. 2014)

May 2014

- Deborah Bolnick and colleagues publish an article on “Late Pleistocene Human Skeleton and mtDNA Links Paleoamericans and Modern Native Americans” in Science  (Chatters et al. 2014)

April 2014

- Jaime Mata-Míguez, Austin Reynolds, Rick Smith, and Deborah Bolnick present at the American Association of Physical Anthropologists annual meeting

- Lauren Springs, Jaime Mata-Míguez, and Deborah Bolnick present at the Sociey for American Archaeology annual meeting

March 2014

- Jaime Mata-Míguez is awarded a NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant

February 2014

- Jennifer Raff and Deborah Bolnick publish a News and Views article in Nature on “Genetic Roots of the First Americans” (Raff and Bolnick 2014)

- Carrie Veilleux, Deborah Bolnick, and colleagues publish an article on “Opsin Genes and Visual Ecology in a Nocturnal Folivorous Lemur” in the International Journal of Primatology (Veilleux et al. 2014)

January 2014

- Aida Miró-Herrans joins the Bolnick Lab as a postdoctoral researcher

October 2013

- Jaime Mata-Míguez awarded a Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

August 2013

- Deborah Bolnick and colleagues publish an article on “Evolution of a Specific O Allele (O1vG542A) Supports Unique Ancestry of Native Americans” in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology (Villanea et al. 2013)

- Deborah Bolnick teaches at the Summer Internship for Native Americans in Genomics, held at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

June 2013

- Lauren Springs publishes an article in the Research Reports in Belizean Archaeology on “Results of the skeletal analysis for the 2011 St. George’s Caye archaeological field season”

April 2013

- Rick Smith, Carrie Veilleux, and Deborah Bolnick present at the American Association of Physical Anthropologists annual meeting

March 2013

- Carrie Veilleux, Deborah Bolnick, and Edward Louis (Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo) publish an article on “Nocturnal Light Environments Influence Color Vision and Signatures of Selection on the OPN1SW Opsin Gene in Nocturnal Lemurs” in Molecular Biology and Evolution (Veilleux et al. 2013)