Biology in the bank

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Science  04 Jan 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6422, pp. 18-20
DOI: 10.1126/science.363.6422.18

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Evolutionary scientists have a new tool—they are turning the troves of genetic and medical data on living people in the UK Biobank into windows on human evolution. In the past 2 years, they have found Neanderthal gene variants in living people that boost the odds that a person smokes, is an evening person rather than a morning person, and is prone to sunburn and depression. In addition to unearthing archaic DNA, the evolutionary studies are pinpointing genes that natural selection may now be winnowing out of the gene pool and other genes—for example those linked to fertility—that it may be favoring. For the architects of the UK Biobank, which was designed for biomedical research, the evolutionary discoveries are an unexpected bonus.