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Dr Aida Gomez-Robles

Dr Aida Gomez-Robles

Lecturer

Dept of Anthropology

Faculty of S&HS

Joined UCL
16th May 2017

Research summary

I have a general interest in the study of human evolution that focuses mostly on palaeoanthropological issues, but also includes, whenever possible and relevant, a much broader comparative context. My research interests in this field are diverse and they include (but are not restricted to):

1. Evolutionary relationships of Pleistocene hominins as inferred from dental variation, with particular emphasis on the origin of Neanderthals. My early research focusing on the description of dental differences between Pleistocene hominins (Gomez-Robles et al 2007, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2015, JHE) was followed by ancestral reconstruction analyses of the Neanderthal-modern human last common ancestor (Gomez-Robles et al 2013, PNAS), and by the evaluation of dental evolutionary rates and their implications for the Neanderthal-modern human divergence (Gomez-Robles 2019, Sci Adv).

2. Human brain evolution, with particular focus on the evolution of brain plasticity. My interest in understanding human brain evolution encompasses the hominin fossil record (Poza-Rey, Gomez-Robles & Arsuaga 2019, JHE), as well as a broader comparative context. I have used comparative studies of chimpanzee and human brain anatomy to assess patterns of brain asymmetry (Gomez-Robles et al 2013, 2016, PRSB) and heritability (Gomez-Robles et al 2015, PNAS).

3. Integration, modularity, serial homology and their influence on evolutionary diversification. I have explored the effect of integration and modularity on the evolutionary diversification of the dentition (Gomez-Robles & Polly 2012, Evolution), the brain (Gomez-Robles et al 2014, Nat Comm) and the cervical spine (Arlegi, Gomez-Robles & Gomez-Olivencia 2018, AJPA). I am interested in finding general rules that can predict the variation of serially homologous anatomical structures regardless of their particular developmental origin and function (Gomez-Robles 2016, Nature).

4. Quantitative approaches to the study of human evolution. My diverse research interests are unified by the use of quantitative approaches, which I consider fundamental to suggest and evaluate testable hypotheses. In this context, I have explored some methodological issues related to the use of geometric morphometrics in palaeoanthropology and neuroscience (Gomez-Robles et al 2011, J Anat, Gomez-Robles et al 2011, Evolution).

5. Relationship between genetic and anatomical patterns of variation. My earlier research on Neanderthal origins made me feel puzzled about the differences between estimates of the Neanderthal-modern human divergence time based on DNA and on anatomical variation. Currently, and through collaboration with researchers at the UCL Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, I am exploring the correspondence between anatomical patterns of variation and their underlying genes.

STUDENTS

I supervise projects on these and other related topics within the Palaeoanthropology and Comparative Anatomy Lab, which I co-direct with Christophe Soligo. Current students are listed below.

- Anna Westland, PhD student co-supervised with Christophe Soligo, Funded by the London NERC DTP, “Intraspecific variation of cranial morphology in Hominoidea”

- Alfie Gleeson, PhD student co-supervised with Aida Andres (GEE), Funded by the BBSRC LIDo DTP, “The genomic and morphological diversity of the hominid face”

- Nida Alfulaij, MSc HEB student, “The tempo and mode of hominin postcanine evolution”

- Kris Chow, MSc HEB student, “Heritability of subcortical anatomy in chimpanzees and humans”

- Hugo Cano Fernandez, MSc PAPA student, "Fractal analysis of hominoid molars"

Teaching summary

I teach Palaeoanthropology at different levels:

- ANTH0007/ANTH0008: Introductory theoretical and practical modules for first-year students including different aspects of biological anthropology (evolutionary theory, primatology, human ecology and palaeoanthropology). I teach the palaeoanthropology section of this module, while other contributors teach the other sections. We cover the major transitions that happened during the evolutionary history of our species as inferred from the human fossil record: acquisition of a bipedal locomotion, increase in brain size and body size, colonisation of non-African environments, and cognitive and behavioural advances associated with the emergence of our own species.

- ANTH0012-UG: Undergraduate Palaeoanthropology module for 2nd/3rd year students. This module covers in detail the topics introduced in ANTH0007/ANTH0008. Major evolutionary transitions are described in association with the species that carried them out. The temporal, geographical and ecological context of these species is described, as well as the potential interactions across species and their evolutionary relationships. Lab sessions provide the opportunity to have hands-on experience with the fossils and explore their anatomical variation.

- ANTH0012-PG: Postgraduate Palaeoanthropology module for MSc students. This is a seminar-based module where students present and discuss papers describing the most recent and important findings related to human evolution research. The module is run together with ANTH0012-UG so that the theoretical contents laid out in UG lectures can inform seminars and discussions. Through careful examination and discussion of papers, we aim to critically evaluate whether the frequent game-changing claims palaeoanthropologists tend to make are warranted based on the available scientific evidence.

Education

Universidad de Granada
PhD, Biological Anthropology | 2010
Universidad de Granada
BSc, Biology | 2004

Biography

With an original background in biological sciences (BSc in Biology, 2004, University of Granada, Spain), I gained my PhD in Biological Anthropology in 2010 working at the Spanish National Research Center for Human Evolution (CENIEH). In 2011 and 2012, I was a postdoctoral fellow at the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research (Altenberg, Austria). From 2012 to 2017, I did a second postdoc at the Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology of the George Washington University (Washington DC, USA). In 2017, I moved to London as a UCL-Excellence Research Fellow at the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment (GEE) of UCL. In 2018, I took up my current position as a Lecturer in Palaeoanthropology at the UCL’s Department of Anthropology. I maintain an affiliation with UCL’s GEE and with the Department of Life Sciences of the Natural History Museum in London.

Publications