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2020 Project Proposal

Simulating human evolution and development

Zachary D. Cofran (Anthropology)

Growth and development are the processes that literally make us human. Over the course of our species' evolution, these processes were modified to make us into the unique animals we are today. The fossil record provides the only direct evidence of such evolutionary changes, but this record is rather fragmentary and sparse.

This URSI project therefore adopts a “virtual,” computer-based approach to study the evolution of development. We will first use 3D models of human and non-human primate bones, to quantify shape and growth patterns. We will further use these virtual methods to reconstruct fragmentary fossils of human relatives, including 130,000 year old Neandertals from Croatia, and 2 million year old Australopithecus and 300,000 year old Homo naledi from South Africa. Finally, we will combine these virtual methodologies to simulate development in extinct species, “growing” fossil juveniles so they can be compared with adults. Students will learn state of the art methods for the study of anatomy and shape, and have the opportunity to design their own developmental simulations based on original fossil data.

The project is open to all and will include training in methods. Nevertheless, preference will go to students majoring in Anthropology, and/or who have taken Biological Anthropology courses.

How should students express interest in this project?
Students should express interest in this project directly within the URSI application, specifying both why they are interested and what relevant background they have for this specific project (e.g., courses, methods training, etc.). I will reach out to candidates after reviewing applications.

This is a 10 week project running from May 27-July 31