Researcher profile: Carina Schlebusch

The subject of human evolution has exploded thanks to new innovations in genetic analysis methods. By analysing ancient and modern-day human DNA, scientists can map migration patterns and how different groups of humans interacted. It is generally accepted that the origins of humanity can be traced to Africa. Therefore, the continent is of particular interest for Human Evolution scientists. Carina Schlebusch is a researcher at the research programme Human Evolution at the department of organismal biology at Uppsala University who is currently studying human evolution in Africa.

She has always had an interest in Science, even when she was young.

“I was the weird kid who took out the science and history books to read from the library”, she says. “So studying human history from a genetic standpoint is really the perfect combination”.

Many questions remain

There are still many questions left to answer regarding human evolution in Africa. Where in Africa did humans originate from? Was it one place or several? Currently, studies suggest that humans first appeared somewhere in East Africa, but they could have appeared at several sites.

“How did human evolution happen in Africa? We know that farmers replaced hunter-gatherers, but how did that affect the genetic make-up of Africa?” she asks.

The most exciting find she has made so far was when she got some ancient DNA from a beach deposit in Africa. Ancient DNA from Africa is considered very hard to get, because the hot climate degrades the DNA.

“We took a chance on that it might work, and it did. We got some excellent data which allowed us to date the first split in the tree of human populations. Other interesting findings we have made is that  populations, previously thought to have been “unadmixed” were also mixed with incoming farmers and herders.”

Life in the garden

On her spare time, Carina likes to go outside the city into the countryside. She currently lives there, and likes work in the garden, make jams and compotes and generally try new things in the kitchen.

Carina is originally from South Africa, the reason she wound up in Uppsala is her husband. He came here as a post-doc at SLU, and she followed.

“I also wanted to do a post-doc here, so I asked Mattias Jakobsson if he was interested to host me as a postdoc. This way, I could continue my work in on human evolution in Africa” she says.

Science shows us we are more alike than different

When asked what advice she has for a young person wanting to become a scientist, her advice is to follow your dreams and do what you like.

“If you are passionate and work hard on something, things will work out. Look to your interest and passion for questions that you really want to find the answer to”, she says.

Researching Human Evolution raises questions about how we see ourselves and where we come from. Turns out we are a lot more similar than we are different.

“It’s nice to know something about our ancestors, that we all come from Africa. In fact, we are very homogenous compared to other animals. There are very small differences between people and we are often very mixed, which makes it difficult to see ancestry. The introduction of agriculture has had a big effect on mixing, so we need to go back before agriculture to be able to reconstruct early human history”, she says.

Last modified: 2021-10-15