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Congratulations to the 2024 winners of the AAAG Outstanding Trainee Presentations in Anthropological Genetics (OTPAG) awards – Christina Balentine, Esha Bandyopadhyay, and Harvey Palacios. The OTPAG awards include a $200 cash prize and a one-year subscription to Human Biology.

Dr. Christina Balentine – Best Postdoc Presentation

I am a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Connecticut in Dr. Deborah Bolnick’s lab. Broadly, I am interested in the interconnections of human biology and culture, and how each works to shape the other. In my research, I take a critical biocultural approach to studying human adaptation and population histories by integrating ancient DNA analyses with data from socioculture sources.

My presentation at the 2024 AABAs, titled “Biocultural analyses lend insights into local population histories in ancient Fuegian-Patagonians,” examined the population histories of hunter-gatherer groups from southern Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, Chile, using ancient DNA analyses contextualized with archaeological, stable isotope, ethnohistorical, and linguistic data. Groups in this region practiced subsistence strategies that relied on either marine or terrestrial resources, or a mix of both. Our results highlighted the complexities of local population histories in this region, with groups showing both shared and divergent genetic ancestry throughout the past ~6,800 years. Insights from the sociocultural evidence lent further nuance and justification to our findings.

In the coming months, we plan to publish these results. In that time, I will also be searching for jobs in science education, outreach, and engagement, with the aim to share the broad understanding of science I gained in my PhD with larger audiences. 

My favorite part of being a AAAG member is the space it provides for people in our somewhat niche field of anthropological genetics at the large, and sometimes overwhelming, AABA meetings. I am eternally grateful for this community and all that it provides, from friendships and networking to educational workshops and more. I am honored to have received the AAAG OTPAG award.

Esha Bandyopadhyay– Best Student Podium Presentation

I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Human Genetics, University of Chicago, advised by Dr. Maanasa Raghavan. Before moving to the US in 2018, I completed B.Tech (2015) and M.Tech (2017) in Genetic Engineering from SRM University, India, along with a short research visit to the University of Cambridge to gain exposure to ancient DNA methods as a part of my M.Tech thesis work (2017). My PhD thesis research focuses on the use of ancient genomics to study the genetic and adaptive histories of humans in the Indian Himalayas.

At AABA 2024, my presentation titled “Investigating the admixture history of humans in the Indian Himalayas using ancient genomics”, provided insights into the genetic admixture histories of humans in the Indian trans-Himalayas. I discussed results based on genomic data generated from three ancient individuals dating to ~1300-1100 years before present and ten present-day individuals from the Spiti district in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Briefly, we find evidence of dynamic admixture patterns in this region over the past ~1300 years that are concordant with known archaeological movements, suggesting bio-cultural connections between this region in the northwestern end of the Himalayan range and the Tibetan Plateau as well as neighboring lowland regions.

Currently, I am wrapping up two manuscripts from my thesis research, in addition to preparing for return of results to communities in India in a few months.

I am actively looking for post-doctoral positions that will leverage my training in human population genetics to delve deeper into understanding how genetic and non-genetic factors shaped human genomes over time.

I am extremely thankful to the AAAG committee for providing a thriving environment for early career researchers. The workshops and events organized by AAAG, have helped me gain valuable exposure to a range of research in biological anthropology that enriches my training and understanding of human evolution. This platform has also highlighted the importance of considering ethical practices in our research. In addition, AAAG events have been great avenues for networking and expanding my professional skills.

I feel extremely honored to be recognized with the 2024 OTPAG award.

Horvey Palacios – Best Student Podium Presentation

I am a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Oklahoma, advised by Dr. Cecil Lewis, and a member of the Laboratories of Molecular Anthropology and Microbiome Research (LMAMR). I am broadly interested in the reconstruction of oral health and disease through the lens of community-engaged archaeology, evolutionary microbial genetics, and multi-omic frameworks. My dissertation research involves analyzing ancient dental calculus to uncover the historical interplay between human oral microbiomes, disease, and human activity in ancient Maya contexts of Southern Belize.

My recent work, "Evaluating efficacy of single- vs double-stranded DNA library preparation strategies for ancient microbiome research" evaluates the efficacy of Blunt-End Single Tube (BEST) double stranded libraries and Santa Cruz Reaction (SCR) single stranded libraries on dental calculus samples from the new world neotropics. This research revealed a significant increase in species richness and overall phylogenetic diversity of recovered microbes using the SCR method compared to BEST. This finding indicates the potential of single-stranded DNA library preparation (SCR) in enhancing metagenomic studies of ancient samples from environments with a high degree of degradation and biodiversity.

Moving forward, I plan to further refine the comparative analyses of these methodologies and complete my dissertation research. I will also be looking for positions in academia and am interested in research, teaching, science outreach and community-engaged scholarship. Specifically, I am interested in a post-doctoral position that will allow me to continue research in ancient and contemporary microbiomes and strengthen my bioinformatic skills.

I am grateful for the passionate community of researchers that I have been able to meet through the AAAG, each interaction has allowed me to expand my network and extend my intellectual interests beyond my current research program. As I continue to grow as a researcher having opportunities to meet with friends, network with new colleagues, and mentor undergraduate students has been invaluable within my professional society. I am honored to have received the AAAG OTPAG award and cannot wait for many more meetings to come!

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