Congratulations to the 2022 winners of the AAAG Outstanding Trainee Presentations in Anthropological Genetics (OTPAG) award – Raquel Fleskes, Christina Balentine, and Jacob Haffner. The OTPAG awards include a $200 cash prize and a one-year subscription to Human Biology.

Dr. Raquel Fleskes – Best Postdoc Presentation

I am a National Science Foundation Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Connecticut. I defended my dissertation in June 2021 from the University of Pennsylvania. My research looks at European and African descended population histories in colonial North America using ancient DNA and community-based engagement strategies.

My presentation at the AABAs was entitled “Critical Translation and Transparency in Community-centered Ancient DNA research: Insights from the Anson Street African Burial Ground Project” and discussed the reasons and ways community engagement was enacted during an ancient DNA project in Charleston. For this project, we are currently working on getting the whole genome results published and doing advocacy work for a future memorial to be built to honor the 36 Anson Street Ancestors.

Currently, I am on the market for a faculty position to continue this research and train the next generation of students in anthropological genetics.

My favorite thing about the AAAG membership is the community!

Christina Balentine – Best Student Poster Presentation

I am a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas at Austin and University of Connecticut with Drs. Deborah Bolnick and Melissa Kemp. My dissertation research takes a critical biocultural approach to the study of demographic histories and genetic adaptation in human populations.

My presentation at the 2022 AABAs titled “Tracing demographic histories through time using ancient DNA in Chilean Fuego-Patagonia” explores the population histories of terrestrial- and marine-specialized hunter-gatherer groups in southern Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, Chile, using ancient mitochondrial and nuclear DNA. Terrestrial hunter-gatherer groups were the first to migrate into Fuego-Patagonia around 10,500 BP, with marine groups appearing several thousand years later. Researchers debate whether these marine hunter-gatherer groups diverged from the first terrestrial groups, or if they migrated into the region later. Our results suggest that marine and terrestrial hunter-gatherer groups belong to distinct genetic lineages that may represent independent migrations into Fuego-Patagonia.

In the upcoming year, I will be completing my dissertation research and I am looking for a post-doctoral position that will allow me to strengthen my bioinformatics skills.

I am most grateful for the tight-knit community that being a member of AAAG provides. Through networking and social opportunities, I have fostered connections with colleagues and mentors who have supported me through all stages of my academic career, from undergrad through grad school and certainly beyond. I hope to become such a mentor to future AAAG anthropological geneticists. I am greatly honored to have received the AAAG OTPAG award.

Jacob Haffner – Best Student Podium Presentation

I am a third year Ph.D. Anthropology student at the University of Oklahoma working with Dr. Cecil Lewis at the Laboratories of Molecular Anthropology and Microbiome Research. My research focuses on human microbiomes and mass spectrometry-based metabolomics by characterizing small molecules that represent host genetic and environmental influences on a chemical level.

My current research project, “The Core Human Fecal Metabolome” broadly examines metabolites from different human populations across the world, highlighting chemical differences along an industrialization gradient, but also revealing shared components that reflect key chemistry of the human gut. I am interested in applying these techniques to other anthropology research areas, such as archaeological residue analysis and ancient dental calculus analysis.

Being involved with the AAAG has been great because it helps with networking/collaborations, discuss research ideas and practices with other scholars, and brings a community with research.

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