Apes, Sugars and Sperm – A Radical Makeover of Human Cell Surfaces and its Consequences

San Diego

Speaker: Pascal Gagneux, Assistant Professor of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at UC San Diego

December 7, 2010 – 4:00pm
Gill Auditorium (1350 El Prado, Balboa Park, Administrative Building just west of Museum)

Human cells differ from those of their closest evolutionary relatives, the African apes, by the absence of millions of sugar molecules from each cell surface. The underlying genetic change responsible for this is known, but nothing is known about the forces that favored this change in our species. Dr. Gagneux will discuss ongoing research on the potential consequences of this difference for reproduction and cross-species viral infections, such as in emerging diseases.

Pascal Gagneux is Assistant Professor of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at UC San Diego. Trained in population biology and zoology, Dr. Gagneux has conducted field research on the behavior of wild chimpanzees in Ivory Coast, West Africa and studied chimpanzee population genetics in Mali and Ivory Coast using DNA extracted from hair samples. He is currently studying differences in glycans, the short sugar chains attached to cell surface glycoproteins and glycolipids of humans and their closest living relatives, the “great apes.” Such glycan differences are a good place to look for mechanisms explaining the many differences in disease susceptibility apparent between humans and apes as well as other unique aspects of human biology.