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Anthropology Unit

Anthropology Unit | University of Geneva

Human genomic population structure and phenotype-genotype variation in ADME genes along a latitudinal transect from Africa to Europe

Project scope

Physicians observe very often that their patients can react differently to the same medical treatment: for some of them, the drug will prove inefficient, whereas for others it might provoke side-effects, sometimes rather serious. Such differences in response to drug intake are due to several factors, of which molecular variations in specific genes, named « ADME ». This acronym stems from the fact that, after ingestion of a chemical compound, these genes are involved in its Absorption in the circulatory system, its Distribution to given tissues, its Metabolism in the liver and/or its Excretion from the organism. This project aims at investigating the evolutionary mechanisms responsible for the diversity of ADME genes in human populations. Thanks to local and international collaborations, the project will document, through the use of bioinformatics and biostatistics tools, the variability of ADME genotypes and phenotypes in targeted populations.

  • Do we find the same ADME variants in different populations ? If so, do we find them at similar frequencies?
  • Do we find similar genotype-phenotype associations in all populations?

This information will be integrated in analyses aimed at evidencing the relative influence of demographic history, on one hand, and of natural selection on the other, on the genetic and genomic structure of populations in ADME regions.

  • Does the history of human migrations explain the diversity observed in ADME genes?
  • Should we rather invoke an effect of the chemical environment, which would have exerted population-specific selective pressures?

Because of their role at the interface between the organism and its chemical environment, ADME genes are likely targets of recent selective pressures linked to changes in the environments in which humans evolved, such as changes in dietary habits for instance. We will couple a « top-down » approach to identify genomic ADME regions that are different between populations, with a « bottom-up » approach to detect « gene-response » associations common to several populations, so as to determine which ADME genes or sets of genes might have undergone recent selective pressures, and of what type. This project is thus intended to evidence the evolutionary mechanisms that shaped genomic regions that are functionally important from the clinical and epidemiological point of view. It will allow us to extend the knowledge of human molecular diversity and its evolution to a key-region of the peopling history of our species.


  • Kickoff meeting with international collaborators, 15-16 October 2015, University of Geneva, Switzerland
  • Conference of 26 November 2015 at the Faculty of Science, Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic
  • Conference of 26 December 2015 at the College of Health Sciences, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia
  • Conference of 9 November 2016 at the College of Medicine and Health Sciences, Sultan Qaboos University, Oman
  • Conference of 3 March 2017 at the Health Sciences School, Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Democritus University of Thrace, Greece
  • End of Project workshop with international collaborators, 7-8 November 2019, University of Geneva, Switzerland
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A research project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (grant 320030_159669, Applicant Dr Estella Poloni)

Internal collaborators

External collaborators

  • Dr Jules Desmeules, co-Applicant (HUG Geneva)
  • Dr Youssef Daali, co-Applicant (HUG Geneva)
  • Dr Mylène Docquier (iGE3 Genomics platform)
  • Dr Viktor Cerny (Charles University)
  • Dr Getnet Yimer (Addis Ababa University)
  • Dr Said Al-Yahyaee (Sultan Qaboos University)
  • Dr Sotiria Boukouvala (Democritus University of Thrace)
University of Geneva
Dpt. of Genetic & Evolution
Anthropology Unit
Quai Ernest-Ansermet 30
1205 Genève
Ph +41 22 379 69 67
Fax +41 22 379 31 94