Our main research interest is to characterize the evolutionary factors - demographic and/or selective processes - explaining the molecular diversity of MHC genes (HLA) in human populations on a global scale, then more specifically in Africa, a continent that has been the site of multiple human migrations and also particularly affected by infectious diseases. Indeed HLA genes govern the adaptive immune responses of humans to diseases, and their particularly high degree of polymorphism - the highest of the genome - is generally explained by pathogen-driven selection in distinct environments.
The studies that we have carried out on these genes for more than 30 years now have revealed very diverse molecular profiles in human populations. Moreover, such profiles are not necessarily correlated between the different HLA genes, which is why we sought to deepen the analysis of the mechanisms governing – either independently or jointly - their evolution.
We address this topic through several approaches, i.e. by analyzing the precise nucleotide variation of these genes on high-throughput sequence data generated for several hundreds of human population samples through biostatistical and molecular population genetics analyses; by applying computational methods using resampling and computer simulations to test alternative models or evolutionary scenarios; by studying the functional variation of the HLA molecules encoded by these genes through bioinformatic HLA peptide-binding predictions (e.g. our recent paper on HLA and SARS-CoV-2 by Barquera et al. 2020); and by comparing human HLA data to Patr (homolog to HLA) data of our closest relatives, the chimpanzees.
Besides our main research on MHC genes, we collaborate on several projects devoted to the genetic history and evolution of human populations through analyses either at the genome-wide level or on specific parts of the genome. Our research also uses an interdisciplinary approach focusing on the comparison of genetic data with geographic/environmental data as well as with cultural information such as linguistic classifications, modes of subsistence (e.g. nomadism..) and others.
We are also involved in works or discussions related to the history of anthropology, the evolution of concepts related to human races, and the issue of population designations (race/ethnicity) in biomedical contexts.
Key-words: MHC, HLA, population genetics, human molecular diversity, evolution, anthropology, Homo sapiens, peopling history, interdisciplinary studies, human races/ethnicities
- FNS project (2020-2024)
Molecular diversity and evolution of HLA genes in Africa (HLA-AFRICA)
Recently funded research projects
- FNS project (2012-2016)
Early human settlements in contrasting environments: HLA molecular variation and its link to population expansions and immune adaptation
- FNS project (2009-2012)
Early human settlements in East Asia: HLA molecular variation, population expansions and linguistic differentiations
- FP7 project: (2012-2015)
A Europe-wide strategy to enhance Transplantation of highly sensitized patients on basis of Acceptable HLA Mismatches