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Chinese paleogeneticist FU Qiaomei awarded UNESCO–AI Fozan International

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FU Qiaomei, a paleogeneticist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), received the UNESCO–AI Fozan International Prize for the Promotion of Young Scientists in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) on June 19 in Paris, France, for her “important work on early human history in Eurasia, based on genetic lineage studies, which provides new insights into early human history in Eurasia and perspectives on the evolution of human health.”

FU Qiaomei, a paleogeneticist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), received the UNESCO–AI Fozan International Prize for the Promotion of Young Scientists in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) on June 19 in Paris, France, for her “important work on early human history in Eurasia, based on genetic lineage studies, which provides new insights into early human history in Eurasia and perspectives on the evolution of human health.”

He is one of five young scientists from around the world to receive the prize, along with researchers from Argentina, Cameroon, Egypt and Serbia. Winners were selected from 2,500 candidates worldwide.

The UNESCO–Al Fozan International Prize for the Promotion of Young Scientists is financially supported by the Al Fozan Foundation in Saudi Arabia. This is the first time the biennial prize has been awarded. It recognizes achievements that support capacity building, scientific career development, and socio-economic development at national, regional, and global levels.

This prize was awarded to five winners from five UNESCO geographic areas, to encourage young people’s participation in STEM, especially women and girls. It was launched to strengthen research and international cooperation in the STEM field to address the global challenges addressed by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Born in 1983, FU is now a professor and director of the Laboratory of Molecular Paleontology at the CAS Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) in Beijing. Her research focuses on providing insight into the genetic history of humans, including who lived when and where, and how they moved and interacted over time.

“Humans of the past shaped the genetic patterns of today’s humans, influencing our health and adaptation to diverse environments,” said FU. “I was a curious child, fascinated by the mysteries of the past and how they shape our present and future. That curiosity led me to pursue a career in genetics, in the field of ancient DNA.”

His dedication to evolutionary genetics and population genetics has resulted in significant insights into human history and biology in Eurasia and innovative developments in related research methodologies.

Among his achievements, FU has taken ancient DNA from human remains and past sediments to create maps of the population evolution of Eurasia (especially East Asia) over the past 100,000 years.

FU also led the team that decoded the genomes of the world’s and East Asia’s earliest modern humans, uncovered many new insights into the genetic exchange between ancient and modern humans, and shed deep light on the dynamics of East Asian peoples over the past 40,000 years. In doing so, FU and his team have filled a critical gap in human history and pioneered new methods for expanding the geographic and temporal scope of ancient DNA acquisition around the world.

Several FU studies have investigated population changes and adaptations during the Ice Age in Eurasia. For example, a widespread population associated with the Tianyuan Cave individual was found to have disappeared at the end of the Last Glacial Maximum (19,000 years ago). Next, mutation on AND GIVE genes emerged related to distinctive features unique to East Asia such as thicker hair and more sweat glands, reflecting the influence of genetic selection in low ultraviolet environments.

“Ancient DNA research has provided insight into our biological makeup, with important implications,” said FU. “With ancient DNA, we can study the genetic make-up of past populations to better understand the origins of disease and motivate the development of new treatments.”

FU also discovered many unique and unknown human genealogies whose ancestors are not found today. In addition, he shows how several other ancestral lineages, such as northern and southern East Asians, contributed greatly to the genetic makeup of today’s East Asians, Austronesians, and Native Americans.

These results reveal the unique and unknown diversity of Eurasian humans and shed light on how different ancestors have shaped the genetic make-up and adaptive traits of today’s humans.

“Our past guides how we face future challenges,” said FU.

To date, FU has authored 63 publications in SCI international journals, 36 of which were published as first author or correspondent including three in Naturalfour in Science and three in Cell.

FU also won a series of other recognitions in his career. He was selected as one of the “Ten Stars of China’s Science” by Natural for its success in promoting the understanding of human evolution. She also received the “17th Prize for Young Women in Science” from the National Commission of the People’s Republic of China for UNESCO as well as the “Tan Kah Kee Young Scientist Award in Life Sciences 2022” from the Tan Kah Kee Science Prize Foundation, among other honors.


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