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The New Comparative Biology of Human Nature

Organized by Jon H. Kaas, Todd M. Preuss, John M. Allman, and Susan M. Fitzpatrick

November 16-18, 2006
Irvine, CA

Meeting Overview:
For much of the 20th Century, research in experimental biology, and especially in psychology and neuroscience, concentrated on a relatively few model organism species, which tends to emphasize the similarities between species and minimize the importance of difference. One result is that we have relatively little detailed information about how the human species differs from (or, for that matter, resembles) other species.

Recently, as the number of model species used in molecular biology and genetics has proliferated, interest in comparative approaches to fundamental biological issues has grown. At the same time, researchers have begun to address the biological status of humans using novel genomic, neuroscientific, and behavioral methods. With respect to the human species, the most informative studies involve comparing humans to other primates, and especially to our closest relatives, the chimpanzees and other great apes. In addition to identifying similarities between humans and other animals, the investigations have begun to identify human-specific features of the brain and cognition, including a unique pattern of disease vulnerability.

This colloquium examines the tension between model-organism and comparative approaches in the history of biology, and then considers recent findings related to the biological and psychological specializations of humans.

Video Available

Session I: Model Organisms vs. Comparative Approaches to Biology: What do we Learn from Exemplars, Proxies, and Extremes?
Susan M. Fitzpatrick, James S. McDonnell Foundation, Moderator
 Opening Remarks

 The Development of the Model-Animal Paradigm in Experimental Biology
Jane Maienschein and Jason Robert, Arizona State University

 History matters: What are you really 'buying' when you buy rats for research?
Cheryl A. Logan, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

 Model-Organism and Comparative Approaches in the Neurosciences
Jon H. Kaas, Vanderbilt University

Session II: The Human Organism: Genotype and Phenotype
Rudy Raff, Indiana University, Moderator
Opening Remarks

 The Evolutionary Relationships of Humans and Apes; What we know about Human Phenotypic Specializations
Bernard Wood, George Washington University

Genotypic and phenotypic changes on the chimpanzee lineage: what they can tell us about human evolution
Caro-Beth Stewart, University at Albany, State University of New York

 Selection for Longevity in Human Evolution
Kristen Hawkes, University of Utah

 Human Genomic Specializations
Evan Eichler, University of Washington

Banquet Lecture
Pasko Rakic, Yale University
Human Difference

Session III: Human Specializations: Health and Disease
Pascal Gagneux, University of California, San Diego, Moderator
 Opening Remarks

 Biomedical and Genetic Differences Between Humans and Great Apes
Ajit Varki, University of California, San Diego

 Alzheimer's Dementia: A Uniquely Human Disease
Patrick Hof, Mount Sinai School of Medicine

 Evolutionary Specializations of the Human Brain
Todd M. Preuss, Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University

Early Cognitive Development in Humans and Nonhuman Primates
Alison Gopnik, University of California, Berkeley

 Cortical Areas in Humans and Nonhuman Primates
David Van Essen, Washington University in St. Louis

Session IV: Human Specializations: Social Cognition and its Disorders
Patricia Kuhl, University of Washington
Language as a Human Specialization

 The Evolution of Human Social Cognition: Comparative Cognitive Neuroscientific Approaches
Lisa Parr, Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University

Neurobiology of Human Social Cognition
John M. Allman, California Institute of Technology

 Genetic Regulation of Social Behavior in Rodents and Humans
Larry Young, Emory University

Summary and Wrap-Up
Daniel Povinelli, University of Louisiana, Lafayette
 Synthesis of Discussion

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