Pascale Gerbault

Senior Research Assistant in Anthropology & Immunogenetics

  • T: +41 22 379 69 64
  • office 4-414 (Sciences II)
  • A genomic history of Aboriginal Australia. Nature 2016 Oct;538(7624):207-214. nature18299. 10.1038/nature18299.


    The population history of Aboriginal Australians remains largely uncharacterized. Here we generate high-coverage genomes for 83 Aboriginal Australians (speakers of Pama-Nyungan languages) and 25 Papuans from the New Guinea Highlands. We find that Papuan and Aboriginal Australian ancestors diversified 25-40 thousand years ago (kya), suggesting pre-Holocene population structure in the ancient continent of Sahul (Australia, New Guinea and Tasmania). However, all of the studied Aboriginal Australians descend from a single founding population that differentiated ~10-32 kya. We infer a population expansion in northeast Australia during the Holocene epoch (past 10,000 years) associated with limited gene flow from this region to the rest of Australia, consistent with the spread of the Pama-Nyungan languages. We estimate that Aboriginal Australians and Papuans diverged from Eurasians 51-72 kya, following a single out-of-Africa dispersal, and subsequently admixed with archaic populations. Finally, we report evidence of selection in Aboriginal Australians potentially associated with living in the desert.

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  • Correction to: "Forward-in-Time, Spatially Explicit Modeling Software to Simulate Genetic Lineages Under Selection". Evol. Bioinform. Online 2015 ;11(Suppl 2):69. 10.4137/EBO.S39777. ebo-suppl.2-2015-069. PMC4939849.


    [This corrects the article DOI: 10.4137/EBO.S33488.].

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  • Forward-in-Time, Spatially Explicit Modeling Software to Simulate Genetic Lineages Under Selection. Evol. Bioinform. Online 2015 ;11(Suppl 2):27-39. 10.4137/EBO.S33488. ebo-suppl.2-2015-027. PMC4768942.


    SELECTOR is a software package for studying the evolution of multiallelic genes under balancing or positive selection while simulating complex evolutionary scenarios that integrate demographic growth and migration in a spatially explicit population framework. Parameters can be varied both in space and time to account for geographical, environmental, and cultural heterogeneity. SELECTOR can be used within an approximate Bayesian computation estimation framework. We first describe the principles of SELECTOR and validate the algorithms by comparing its outputs for simple models with theoretical expectations. Then, we show how it can be used to investigate genetic differentiation of loci under balancing selection in interconnected demes with spatially heterogeneous gene flow. We identify situations in which balancing selection reduces genetic differentiation between population groups compared with neutrality and explain conflicting outcomes observed for human leukocyte antigen loci. These results and three previously published applications demonstrate that SELECTOR is efficient and robust for building insight into human settlement history and evolution.

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  • Evolution of lactase persistence: an example of human niche construction. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. Lond., B, Biol. Sci. 2011 Mar;366(1566):863-77. 366/1566/863. 10.1098/rstb.2010.0268. PMC3048992.


    Niche construction is the process by which organisms construct important components of their local environment in ways that introduce novel selection pressures. Lactase persistence is one of the clearest examples of niche construction in humans. Lactase is the enzyme responsible for the digestion of the milk sugar lactose and its production decreases after the weaning phase in most mammals, including most humans. Some humans, however, continue to produce lactase throughout adulthood, a trait known as lactase persistence. In European populations, a single mutation (-13910*T) explains the distribution of the phenotype, whereas several mutations are associated with it in Africa and the Middle East. Current estimates for the age of lactase persistence-associated alleles bracket those for the origins of animal domestication and the culturally transmitted practice of dairying. We report new data on the distribution of -13910*T and summarize genetic studies on the diversity of lactase persistence worldwide. We review relevant archaeological data and describe three simulation studies that have shed light on the evolution of this trait in Europe. These studies illustrate how genetic and archaeological information can be integrated to bring new insights to the origins and spread of lactase persistence. Finally, we discuss possible improvements to these models.

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  • Impact of selection and demography on the diffusion of lactase persistence. PLoS ONE 2009 ;4(7):e6369. 10.1371/journal.pone.0006369. PMC2711333.


    The lactase enzyme allows lactose digestion in fresh milk. Its activity strongly decreases after the weaning phase in most humans, but persists at a high frequency in Europe and some nomadic populations. Two hypotheses are usually proposed to explain the particular distribution of the lactase persistence phenotype. The gene-culture coevolution hypothesis supposes a nutritional advantage of lactose digestion in pastoral populations. The calcium assimilation hypothesis suggests that carriers of the lactase persistence allele(s) (LCT*P) are favoured in high-latitude regions, where sunshine is insufficient to allow accurate vitamin-D synthesis. In this work, we test the validity of these two hypotheses on a large worldwide dataset of lactase persistence frequencies by using several complementary approaches.

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I am an evolutionary biologist who uses bioinformatics and simulation modeling tools to disantangle the contribution of various forces that may have shaped population genetic diversity. I am particularly interested in integrating various sources of information (including archaeological and genetic data for example) in the understanding of observed patterns.

I currently work on the HLA-AFRICA project with Prof. Alicia Sanchez-Mazas.

I am also interested in infectious diseases and I co-supervise a PhD project on the distribution of the treponematoses yaws and syphilis in Ghana (GCRF funding). 


  • PhD Evolutionary Genetics, Modelling demographic and evolutionary history: Integrating genetic and archaeological data, University College London, UK, 2009-2013
  • MSc Molecular Biology, X-chromosome diversity in French-Canadian populations, University of Montreal, Canada, 2005-2006
  • MA Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education, University of Westminster, 2016-2018
  • MA Genetic Anthropology, mtDNA haplogroup diversity in an Aymara population, University of Toulouse / Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, France, 2004
  • BSc Biology of Organisms, Populations and Ecosystems, University of Toulouse /University of Bordeaux, France, 2002-2003

Awards & Grants

  • Global Challenge Research Fund 3 years PhD project supervision, Prevalence of treponematoses syphilis and yaws in Ghana, University of Westminster, UK, 2019
  • Phase 4 Excellence with Impact 17/18 award Quintin Hogg Trust University Strategic Research Fund, Pilot project on the prevalence of treponemal diseases in Ghana, School of Life Sciences, University of Westminster, UK, 2018

Employment history

  • Senior Research Assistant in Anthropology and Immunogenetics, University of Geneva, Switzerland, 2021-present
  • Lecturer in Life Sciences, School of Life Sciences, University of Westminster, UK, 2016-2021
  • Post-Doctoral Research Associate, University College London, UK, 2013-2016
  • Teaching Assistant, University of Geneva, Switzerland, 2008

Teaching activities

Undergraduate students

  • First year undergraduate module leader (Applications of Biological Sciences), University of Westminster, UK, 2017-2021.
  • Genetic inheritance; Introduction to statistics; Biochemistry practical/tutorials; Cell Biology tutorials; Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium and applications; Introduction to R-programming to research project students, University of Westminster, UK, 2016-2021. 
  • Open Days, clearing, lab-tasters, University of Westminster, UK, 2016-2021. 

MSc students

  • Introduction to R-programming to research project students, University of Westminster, UK, 2019
  • Introduction to Population Genetics and Human Evolution (Seminar series Anthropological and Archaeological Genetics module), University College London, 2010-2015 
  • Biomathematics, 2008, University of Geneva 

PhD students (workshops)

  • Identifying signals of natural selection, The Population genomics: background and tools summer school, EMBO course Naples, Italy, 2017, ELIXIR course Naples, Italy, 2018
  • Introduction to simulation modelling in archaeology and population genetics in R, University College London, 2015
  • Introduction to statistics using R, University of Bristol, 2014
  • Introduction to programming in Python, University College London, 2010

Other post-graduate courses

  • Research methods in Biology, University of Geneva, 2021
  • Computer skills for Biological research, University of Geneva, 2021

Enabling activities


  • Peer-reviewing for academic international Journals, including Scientific Reports, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Annals of Human Genetics, and Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. (USA), PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, 2010-present 
  • Guest Editor, Supplement Issue on Evolutionary Genomics of Evolutionary Bioinformatics Journal, 2015.
  • Setting up a Departmental post-doctoral network, University College London, UK, 2014-2015.
  • Contributor to Divisional ATHENA SWAN application, University College London, UK, 2015
  • Symposium co-organiser: Ancient genomes: a time machine for investigating selection, annual meeting of the Society of Molecular Biology Evolution, Austria, 2015 
  • Co-organiser of Departmental seminar series, University College London, UK, 2012-2013


  • Guest scientific expert on Races and human migrations, workshop for international artists, The Art Catalyst, organised by N. Triscott, London, UK, 2019
  • Scientific volunteer at the 15 years Science 4u School Day event, University of Westminster, UK, 2018-2019
  • Outreach talk Are we still evolving?, British Science Festival, Newcastle, UK, 2013.

Invited international conference presentations

  • Are we still evolving? 50,000 years of human history in our DNA: What consequences for the future? Grand Conférence of the Académie des Sciences, Paris, 2021
  • The Evolution of Lactase Persistence in Europe, European Association of Archaeology, 2017, Maastricht, Netherlands, 2018, Barcelona, Spain
  • Testing goat domestication hypotheses using coalescent and approximate Bayesian computation approaches, International Conference of Archaeozoology, Paris, France, 2016