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James Noonan, PhD

Faculty Member

Center for Neurodevelopment and Plasticity

Email | Lab | Department | ORCID

Deciphering the Genetic Drivers of Human Evolution

Our current research program is focused on addressing two distinct, but complementary, questions. The first is to decipher the role of gene regulatory changes in the evolution of uniquely human traits, particularly the expansion and elaboration of the human cerebral cortex. Our initial efforts targeted a class of elements that we and others first characterized over a decade ago: Human Accelerated Regions (HARs). These elements are highly conserved across species but show many human-specific changes, suggesting they encode uniquely human functions of potentially large effect. We have since expanded the scope of our work to globally identify human-specific regulatory innovations using experimental methods. Our current research is aimed at understanding the phenotypes these regulatory changes specify using humanized mouse models, massively parallel genetic screens, and cellular models of primate neurodevelopment. More recently, we have expanded our interests further to identify gene regulatory mechanisms underlying a human neurodevelopmental phenotype of enormous public health significance: autism. Our current research is focused on characterizing regulatory networks disrupted in autism using mouse and cellular models of brain development. This work is highly synergistic with our studies of human brain evolution, drawing on the same intellectual and experimental resources we established in our previous research.




Jim received his undergraduate degree in Biology and English Literature (Honors) from Binghamton University in 1997 and his PhD in Genetics at Stanford University in 2004. He joined the Yale Genetics faculty in 2007. He is currently the Albert E. Kent Professor of Genetics, with secondary appointments in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Neuroscience.