Where liberal arts meets biology

Students are often faced with with some very contradictory decisions. Liberal arts or natural sciences? English literature or chemistry? The classical educational framework forces students to choose early on which path they will take and, as a result, students with a penchant for history will rarely be exposed to the intricacies of biology. However, a new study out of Columbia University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, may give those who are ready to trade-in their biology textbooks for lessons in history a reason for second-thought.

In a study published in the November 2012 issue of The American Journal of Human Genetics (AJHG), Columbia scientists describe a new approach used to analyze genetic data to learn more about the history of populations. The authors are the first to develop a method that can describe in detail events in recent history, over the past 2,000 years. They demonstrate this method in two populations, the Ashkenazi Jews and the Masai people of Kenya, who represent two kinds of histories and relationships with neighboring populations: one that remained isolated from surrounding groups, and one that grew from frequent cross-migration across nearby villages.

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