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Discovery is in her genes: ASU anthropologist elected to National Academy of Sciences

Dr. Anne Stone

ASU professor and anthropological geneticist Anne C. Stone.

May 04, 2016

Anne C. Stone is something of a renaissance woman when it comes to anthropology. Using her specialty of anthropological genetics, she explores a spectrum of subjects that relate to everything from our health to the understanding of our own human identity. Currently, her Laboratory of Molecular Anthropology is working on a number of projects, including research into the evolutionary history of tuberculosis, the population history of the Caribbean and chimpanzee population history.

Throughout her career Stone has had some notable breakthroughs.

For example, her research into Y chromosome variation in chimpanzees supported early mitochondrial DNA evidence that this species is more genetically diverse than humans.

More recently, Stone collaborated with paleogeneticist Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History to uncover evidence that prehistoric tuberculosis in the Americas was transmitted to humans by seals, and that the jump into humans came more recently than previously thought — 3,000 to 6,000 years ago.

This level of accomplishment isn’t surprising coming from a woman whose dissertation research involved one of the earliest and largest ancient DNA analyses of a prehistoric community.

In recognition of her impressive — and quickly growing — body of work, this week Stone was elected by her peers to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the world’s most prestigious organizations of scholars. Created by an Act of Congress in 1863 and honoring “distinguished and continuing achievements in regular research,” the NAS boasts such esteemed past and present members as Franz Boas, Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein.

Stone joins 84 new members and 21 foreign associates from 14 nations as newly minted 2016 members.

“It is a great honor and quite a surprise to be elected,” Stone said. “I am humbled and very appreciative of all the great students and mentors that I have had over the years.”

Like her research subjects, Stone’s field of study has been shaped by evolution. She began as a biology and archaeology double major before being drawn to evolutionary anthropology. In her first year of graduate school, she became interested in the new field of ancient DNA and the rest, as they say, is history.

Today, Stone works closely with her graduate students to help them chart their own academic and professional paths by providing invaluable guidance and unique hands-on learning opportunities in her lab.

Anthropology doctoral student Genevieve Housman is studying how skeletal-tissue DNA methylation patterns vary within and between nonhuman primate species. She has also worked with Stone on tuberculosis and peopling of the Americas projects.

Housman said, “Designing and initiating these research endeavors has had its ups and downs, and Dr. Stone has supported me through it all. I’m especially grateful for her prompt and helpful responses to all of my frantic late-night emails and phone calls.”

That sentiment is echoed by fellow doctoral student Maria Nieves Colon, who calls Stone “an amazing mentor and role model.”

She explained, “She is always present for her students and postdocs, never too busy to answer our emails or meet with us when we need her. At the same time she encourages our independence, lets us make our own decisions and allows us to learn at our own pace. She has encouraged a true community within her lab where we all work together to solve research problems, support each other when we fail or make mistakes and celebrate each other's successes.”

In the wake of Stone’s election to the NAS, several of her colleagues have commented on the significance of her work and her suitability for an organization that advises the U.S. on science and technology matters and promotes scientific discovery in our nation.

“Anne is an ideal addition to the NAS,” said Regents’ Professor Jane Buikstra, also an NAS member. “She’s accomplished in many scholarly arenas, is a brilliant researcher and is a model collaborator and mentor. Her presence in the academy brings luster to the organization as it also well represents the excellence of the ASU faculty.”

Added Alexandra Brewis Slade, director of the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, “Dr. Stone’s research is energetic and important. It is tackling some of the most concerning reemerging infectious diseases, like leprosy and tuberculosis. Its brilliance is in the ways it creatively integrates a wide array of genetic data from past and present human societies, and other mammal species, to tell the story of not only where we and our diseases come from, but also where things are headed next.”

Stone is the director of the Center for Bioarchaeological Research and the associate director of the ASU Center for Evolution and Medicine. She is faculty in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and affiliated with the School of Life Sciences and the Institute of Human Origins.

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