The 2018 Ri Christmas Lectures

Genetics Society guest lecturer Aoife McLysaght co-hosts the Ri Christmas Lectures 2018

Entitled “Who am I?”, the 2018 Ri Christmas Lectures, were sponsored (among others) by The Genetics Society.

Hosted as usual at the Royal Institution , London, and filmed mid December, the lectures were shown on BBC4, between Christmas and New Year 2018 and are now available on iplayer.

For the first time in their 194 year history, the Christmas Lectures were co-presented.

The Genetics Society was delighted to have appointed Professor Aoife McLysaght (Trinity College, Dublin) as our Guest Lecturer.

Aoife, who is already familiar with the Royal Institute as the winner of the Genetics Society 2016 Haldane Lecture, added her genetics expertise to Professor Alice Roberts, (University of Birmingham) biological anthropology knowledge and together they explore what makes us human, and more directly, what makes us who we are.

“We humans tend to view ourselves as separate from the natural world, a special creation even, but we’re far more closely related to the rest of the animal kingdom than you might imagine. We begin by meeting our common animal ancestors, revealing the surprising similarities in our anatomy, development and DNA; and how we’re more closely related to a bat – and even a fruit fly – than you might think.  We uncover our place as a humble twig on the vast tree of life.

We’ll track the emergence of modern humans and ask what sets us apart from the other, now extinct, hominin species. We’ll find out how our human ancestors spread across the globe and diversified to create the extraordinary diversity we see today. We’ll ask what makes you different from your neighbour – and how those differences emerge through an interplay between genes and environment. And we’ll look at the latest developments in genetics which lead us to a deeper understanding of human biology, as well as underpinning advances in medicine.

We will bring our evolutionary story to life, taking viewers on an immersive voyage through our shared evolutionary past and asking challenging ethical questions about what the future holds.

This is the story of us – in all its deep-rooted, diverse, and surprising glory.”

Lecture breakdown

Lecture 1: Where do I come from?

An exploration of our animal family, meeting our distant cousins – from fish to fruit flies – unearthing clues to our evolutionary past and revealing surprising similarities as we discover our true place in the tree of life.

Lecture 2: What makes me Human?

The story of our recent evolution from early two-legged hominins to modern humans – revealing how a humble African ape became a successful global species. Alice and Aoife will uncover the story of our journey out of Africa as we spread across the globe.

Lecture 3: What makes me, me?

An understanding of how the interplay between genetic variation and the environment makes us all different – even identical twins. We’ll interrogate emerging genetic technologies – from fixing gene errors to personalised medicine – and ask how far we should go with genetic testing.