- Assistant Professor of Genome Sciences
Dr. Harris uses population genetic theory and high-throughput biological sequence analysis to study recent evolutionary history in humans and other species. One are of particular interest is the evolution of mutagenesis the forces that control DNA replication fidelity, the mutational breakdown of established traits, and the ultimate origin of new traits. Although DNA is replicated and repaired by highly conserved housekeeping pathways, the mutation rate appears to evolve surprisingly rapidly over evolutionary time. One way to see this is to compare the relative mutation rates of different 3-base-pair DNA motifs, expanding a one-dimensional “mutation rate” into a rich, multidimensional “mutation spectrum.” Due to changes in the mutation rates of particular DNA motifs, each human population and great ape species appears to have its own distinctive mutational spectrum that results from a unique set of mutational challenges and repair processes. The Harris lab works to decipher how this variation is genetically and environmentally determined and what evolutionary pressures (such as cancer, congenital disease, or life history) might be driving mutagenesis to change. She is also broadly interested in the impact of demography, inbreeding, and hybridization on the dynamics of natural selection, particularly in the wake of gene flow between humans, Neanderthals, and other extinct hominids.