Omer Gokcumen interviewed by WNYC Radiolab: Neanderthal's Revenge

Omer Gokcumen.

Omer Gokcumen, associate professor, Department of Biological Sciences

Omer Gokcumen's work on evolutionary genomics was featured on Radioshop, in a segment entitled Neanderthal's Revenge. The program's co-host, Latif Nasser,  reported on his own "medical journey that made him not only question what was going on in his body, but also dig into the secret genetic story of how we became human."  While looking into the origins of Crohn's Disease, Nasser came upon a research article by Gokcumen. The full podcast is here

Excerpt of Gokcumen's segment (starts at 18-minutes into program):

: Did we get Crohn's disease from Neanderthals?



LATIF: The Neanderthals probably aren't to blame.

OMER GOKCUMEN: It seems to me that Crohn's disease is actually older than Neanderthals, older than humans.

LATIF: That Crohn's disease, or at least this genetic variation predisposing you to it developed all the way back in Homo erectus.

OMER GOKCUMEN: The homo erectus group in Africa before, you know, they were spread across the world.

LULU: Oh! Wait, so this kind of contradicts what the other scientists found.

LATIF: Well, not exactly. It turns out for a disease as complicated as Crohn's, there are actually multiple parts of the genome that contribute to it. Some of those did come with sex with Neanderthals, but a lot also came from before we—or they—ever existed. And for that reason, Omer says ...

OMER GOKCUMEN: It's more accurate to say that we share Crohn's disease with Neanderthals. Part of our legacy, in a way.

About Radiolab (from their website):  We ask deep questions and use investigative journalism to get the answers. A given episode might whirl you through science, legal history, and into the home of someone halfway across the world. The show is known for innovative sound design, smashing information into music. It is hosted by Lulu Miller and Latif Nasser.

Radiolab is supported in part by Science Sandbox a Simons Foundation initiative dedicated to engaging everyone with the process of science. Additional leadership support is provided by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, fostering path-breaking scientific discover; the Shanahan Family Charitable Foundation; The Smart Family Fund; and the John Templeton Foundation.

Faculty Profile

  • Omer Gokcumen


    Omer Gokcumen.

    Omer Gokcumen


    Omer Gokcumen


    Associate Professor
    Distinguished Postdoc Mentor Award, 2019

    Research Interests

    Human and primate evolution, ancient humans (including Neanderthals and Denisovans), anthropological genomics


    • PhD, University of Pennsylvania
    • Postdoctoral Research, Harvard Medical School

    Research Statement

    Omer Gokcumen is an expert in evolutionary anthropology — the study of how humans evolved and how they differ from non-human primates such as gorillas and chimpanzees. His work is tied to human evolution, including evolutionary adaptation and the evolutionary processes that lead to genetic disease.

    Gokcumen’s research examines the role that genomic variants, especially deletions and duplications, play in human disease and biology. His laboratory investigates the evolutionary history of genetic variations tied to interesting traits and diseases in modern and ancient human populations.

    Selected Publications

    • Nikkanen, J., Leong, W.A., Krause, W.C., Dermadi, D., Maschek, J.A., Van Ry, T., Cox, J.E., Weiss, E.J., Gokcumen, O.*, Chawla, A., Ingraham, H.A. (2022). Trade-Offs Between Hepatic Host Defense and Metabolic Programs Underlie Sex-Biased Diseases. Science. 378: 290-295.
    • Dos Santos, A.L.C., Owings, A., Sullasi, H.S.L., Gokcumen, O.*, DeGiorgio, M., Lindo, J. Genomic evidence of ancient migrations along South America's Atlantic coast. (2022). Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 289: 20221078.
    • Pajic, P.*, Shen, S., Qu, J., May, A.J., Knox, S., Ruhl, S., Gokcumen, O.* (2022) A mechanism of gene evolution generating mucin function. Science Advances. 8: 34. [Corresponding author].
    • Saitou, M.*, Masuda, N., Gokcumen, O.* (2022). Similarity-based analysis of allele frequency distribution among multiple populations identifies adaptive genomic structural variants. Molecular Biology and Evolution. 39: msab313. [Corresponding Author]. 
    • Saitou, M.*, Resendez, S.*, Pradhan, A.J., Wu, F., Lie, N.C., Hall, N.J., Zhu, Q.,  Reinholdt, L. Satta, Y., Speidel, L., Nakagome, S., Hanchard, N. A., Churchill, G., Lee, C., Atilla-Gokcumen,  G. E., Mu, X., Gokcumen, O.* (2021). Sex-specific phenotypic effects and evolutionary history of an ancient polymorphic deletion of the human growth hormone receptor. Sci Adv. 7, eabi4476. [Corresponding Author].
    • Starr, I.*, Seiffert-Sinha, K, Sinha, A.A., Gokcumen, O.* (2021). Evolutionary Context of Psoriatic Immune Skin Response. Evolution, Medicine and Public Health. 9: 474-486 [Corresponding Author].  
    • Pliss, A., Kuzmin, A.N., Lita, A., Kumar, R., Celiku, O., Atilla-Gokcumen G.E., Gokcumen, O.*, Chandra, D., Larion, M., Prasad, P.N. (2021). Single Organelle Optical Omics Platform for Cell Science and Biomarker Discovery. Analytical Chemistry. 93:8281.
    • Pradhani et al. (2021). Protein acylation by saturated very long chain fatty acids and endocytosis are involved in necroptosis. Cell Chemical Biology. (In Press)
    • Xu, D., Gokcumen, O*., Khurana, E. (2020). Loss-of-function tolerance of enhancers in the human genome. PLoS Genetics. 6:e1008663.
    • Eaaswarkhanth, E., dos Santos, A.L.*, Gokcumen, O.*, Al-Mulla, F., Thanaraj, T.A. (2020). Genome-Wide Selection Scan in an Arabian Peninsula Population Identifies a TNKS Haplotype Linked to Metabolic Traits and Hypertension. Genome Biology and Evolution, 12:  77–87 [Highlighted in Human Genetics].
    • Gokcumen, O. (2020) Archaic hominin introgression into modern human genomes. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology. 171: 60.
    • Saitou, M.* & Gokcumen, O. (2020). An Evolutionary Perspective on the Impact of Genomic Copy Number Variation on Human Health. Journal of Molecular Evolution. 88: 104.
    • Thamadilok, S., Choi, K.-S., Ruhl, L., Schulte, F., Kazim, A. L., Hardt, M., Gokcumen, O*., Ruhl, S. (2020).Human and Non-Human Primate Lineage-Specific Footprints in the Salivary Proteome. Molecular Biology and Evolution. 37:39-405.
    • O Gokcumen, M Frachetti. The Impact of Ancient Genome Studies in Archaeology.  Annual Review of Anthropology. (2020) 49:277–98
    • Saitou, M*., Gaylord, E., Xu, D.,Neznanova, L., Nathan, S., Grawe, A., Chang, J., Ryan, William., Ruhl, S., Knox, S.M., and Gokcumen, O*.  (2020). Functional Specialization of Human Salivary Glands and Origins of Proteins Intrinsic to Human Saliva. Cell Reports. 33, 108402. [Corresponding Author].
    • Ozgur Taskent, Yen Lung Lin, Ioannis Patramanis, Pavlos Pavlidis and Omer Gokcumen, 2020. Analysis of Haplotypic Variation and Deletion Polymorphisms Point to Multiple Archaic Introgression Events, Including from Altai Neanderthal Lineage.

    Research News

    • 2022 Interview for BBC 4 - Inside Science on our work on evolution of mucus. (here)
    • 2022 Interviewed for NPR - RadioLab. “Neanderthals’ revenge” episode on our work on ancient alleles in the human genome. (here)
    • 2021 Interviewed for Scientific American on our work on the evolution of human growth hormone receptor. (here)
    • 2021 Interviewed for The Scientist on our work on the evolution of human growth hormone receptor. (here)
    • 2021 Quoted in How Stuff Works - “How human are humans?” by Joanna Thompson. (here)
    • 2020 BBC - Reel
    • 2019 Quoted in NYTimes.

    UB Now Highlights

    • 2022 Pajic et al. A mechanism of gene evolution generating mucin function. Press release. Selected highlights: New Scientist, Yahoo News, BBC, GEN, Inverse.
    • 2021 Saitou et al. Sex-specific phenotypic effects and evolutionary history of an ancient polymorphic deletion of the human growth hormone receptor. Press release.  Selected highlights: Real Clear Science, The Scientist, Scientific American.
    • 2020 Saiotu et al. Functional Specialization of Human Salivary Glands and Origins of Proteins Intrinsic to Human Saliva. Press release.  Selected Highlights: Cosmos, CBC- Radio Active.
    • 2020 Taskent et al.  Analysis of haplotypic variation and deletion polymorphisms point to multiple archaic introgression events, including from Altai Neanderthal lineage. Press release.   Selected Highlights: Futurity, Sputnik, Genetic Literacy Project.