The International Symposium on Human Genetics 2021 – ISHG 2021

Dates: Tuesday, 9 & Wednesday, 10 March 2021
Virtual Conference Platform

This Symposium aims to provide a taster for the ICHG2022, since it was postponed by almost a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are bringing together exceptional speakers for two sessions on topics that are highly relevant to human geneticists and these discussions will be picked up again at the main meeting in 2022. Each session will last for two hours, one accommodating western time zones and the other eastern time zones.

DAY 1: The shaping of modern genomes: migration, admixture and adaptation
Tuesday, 9 March 2021
3 – 5 pm SAST

Since the emergence of modern man in Africa between 400,000 and 600,000 years ago, evolutionary forces have been shaping the human genome. Studies on the genomes of people living today and some who died thousands of years ago provide clues to our past and we begin to unravel a story of migration, admixture and adaptation. In this session we start with African population genomics, then adaptive signatures and introgression form extinct hominids to the peopling of Asia. .

Speaker Country Suggested Topic
Charles Rotimi & Michele Ramsay (Chairs) USA / South Africa Significance of the modern human origins and evolutionary processes
Ananyo Choudhury South Africa H3Africa population genomics studies – selection and adaptation
Sarah Tishkoff USA Genetic selection: Skin colour and lactase persistence
Janet Kelso Germany Ancient DNA studies – Neanderthal introgression
Partha P Majumder India Genome Asia
All speakers & Chairs Discussion Q&A format (LIVE)
Chairs Wrap-up



DAY 2: Infectious diseases and our genome
Wednesday, 10 March 2021
Time: 9 – 11 am SAST

SSince the origin of modern man, people have been plagued by pathogens, threatening their health and causing premature death in hundreds of thousands of people over short time periods. Malaria and trypanosomiasis continue to cause high morbidity and mortality in Africa and the world is staggering under the COVID-19 pandemic. What have we learned about human adaptation, our immune responses and how vulnerable or resilient do variations in our genomes make us?

Speaker Country Suggested Topic

Ambroise Wonkam /

Poh San Lai

South Africa/Cameroon / Singapore Significance of infections in shaping the human genome and adaptation strategies
Solomon Ofori-Acquah, PhD Ghana The Shaping of Modern Human Genomes: Journey of the Sickle Cell Gene from Africa to the World.
Prof George Gao China The role of host genome variation in the time of COVID-19
Sarah Dunstan Australia Host-pathogen interactions of a number of infectious diseases including tuberculosis, malaria and enteric fever
Mihai Netea The Netherlands Immune deficiency and susceptibility to infections
All speakers, Chairs & Raj Ramesar Discussion Q&A format (LIVE)
Chairs Wrap-up


Cost: No charge

Sponsorship opportunities are available for companies to cover the costs. If you are interested in contributing, please contact Carolyn Melnick on or +27 82 223 1338.

Thank you to our sponsors





Dr Sarah Dunstan

Dr Sarah Dunstan is a Senior Research Fellow in The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, at The University of Melbourne. Sarah uses genomics to understand host-pathogen interactions of infectious diseases. Sarah completed her PhD at the University of Melbourne in 1998 then undertook a postdoctoral position at Imperial College, London. In 2001, Sarah joined the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit, Vietnam and lead the Human Genetics group. Sarah developed a large program of work on enteric fever, tuberculosis and malaria. In 2013, Sarah returned to the University of Melbourne to continue infectious disease human genomics, and expanded her research to include pathogen genomics.


  • The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity,
  • Department of Infectious Diseases,
  • The University of Melbourne,
  • Australia

George F. Gao

Gao currently holds several positions:

  • Director-General, Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC)
  • Vice President, National Natural Science Foundation of China
  • Director and Professor, CAS Key Laboratory of Pathogenic Microbiology and Immunology, Institute of Microbiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences

Professor George F. Gao obtained his PhD (DPhil) degree from Oxford University, UK and did his postdoc work in both Oxford University and Harvard University (with a brief stay in Calgary University). His research interests include enveloped viruses and molecular immunology. His group research is mainly focusing on the enveloped virus entry and release, esp. influenza virus interspecies transmission (host jump), structure-based drug-design and structural immunology. He is also interested in virus ecology, esp. the relationship between influenza virus and migratory birds or live poultry markets and the bat-derived virus ecology and molecular biology. He has published lots of refereed papers (Including papers in Cell, Nature, Science, The Lancet, New England Journal of Medicine, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA etc.). His research has recently expanded on public health policy and global health strategy. He led the China CDC team in 2014 (From September to November, when the disease went to its sky-high level) to work in Sierra Leone for fighting against Ebola and his heroic role there has made a great deal for the field work. He works hard now for establishing an Africa-based center for pathogens and tropical diseases.

Gao is a member (academician) of Chinese Academy of Sciences (elected in 2013), a fellow of The Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS, also known as The World Academy of Sciences, elected in 2014), a fellow of African Academy of Sciences (AAS, elected in 2017), a foreign associate of National Academy of Sciences (NAS, elected in 2019), a member of Brazilian Academy of Sciences (BAS, elected in 2019) and so on.

Janet Kelso

Janet Kelso is head of the Bioinformatics research group at the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. Her research focusses on the analysis of ancient genomes, particularly the genomes of archaic humans. Her group has a particular interest in the development of novel computational approaches for the analysis of ancient DNA, and in using these approaches to gain insights into genome evolution. Janet received her PhD in bioinformatics from the South African National Bioinformatics Institute at the University of the Western Cape under the supervision of Professor Winston Hide. She is author of more than 80 peer-reviewed scientific publications. Janet is the co-Editor-in-chief of the journal Bioinformatics together with Alfonso Valencia. Janet is an active member of the Board of the International Society of Computational Biology, and has held positions as both Vice-president and Secretary. She was named a Fellow of the Society in 2015.

Partha Majumder

Partha Majumder is a National Science Chair of the Government of India. He has founded the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics Institute in India. He is a Distinguished Professor in the Institute, and also an Emeritus Professor of the Indian Statistical Institute. He has made profound contributions to understanding ancestries and structures of ethnic populations of Asia – India in particular – using molecular genetic and statistical methods. He has also made profound contributions to deciphering the genetic basis of many diseases, including cancers of high prevalence in India. He is an elected Fellow of all national science academies of India, and of The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) and the International Statistical Institute. He is currently the President of the Indian Academy of Sciences and the West Bengal Academy of Science & Technology. He is a recipient of many awards and medals, including the Biology Prize of The World Academy of Sciences, Sir Prafulla Chandra Ray Memorial Medal of the University of Calcutta, the Golden Jubilee Commemoration Medal of the Indian National Science Academy and the New Millennium Science Medal of the Government of India.

Prof. Dr. Mihai G. Netea

Mihai Netea was born and studied medicine in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. He completed his PhD at the Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands, on studies investigating the cytokine network in sepsis. After working as a post-doc at the University of Colorado, he returned to Nijmegen where he finished his clinical training as an infectious diseases specialist, and where he currently heads the division of Experimental Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, Nijmegen University Nijmegen Medical Center. He is mainly interested in understanding the factors influencing variability of human immune responses, the biology of sepsis and immunoparalysis in bacterial and fungal infections, and the study of the memory traits of innate immunity. He is the recipient of the Spinoza Prize 2016 and an ERC Advanced grant in 2019, and member of the Netherlands Royal Academy of Science (KNAW).

Sarah Tishkoff

Sarah Tishkoff is the David and Lyn Silfen University Professor in Genetics and Biology at the University of Pennsylvania, holding appointments in the School of Medicine and the School of Arts and Sciences. She is also Director of the Penn Center for Global Genomics and Health Equity. Dr. Tishkoff studies genomic and phenotypic variation in ethnically diverse Africans. Her research combines field work, laboratory research, and computational methods to examine African population history and how genetic variation can affect a wide range of adaptive traits and disease risk.

Solomon Ofori-Acquah

Professor Ofori-Acquah was appointed Dean of the School of Biomedical and Allied Health Sciences, University of Ghana in January 2017, and Associate Professor of Medicine and Human Genetics, University of Pittsburgh, USA in 2013. He is the Centre Leader of the West African Genetic Medicine Centre (WAGMC), and, Director and Principal Investigator of the Sickle Cell Disease Genomics Network of Africa (SickleGenAfrica).

Professor Ofori-Acquah’s research is focused on pathogenesis, genomics and innovative therapy in SCD. He established the first mouse model of the Acute Chest Syndrome. His research has continuously been funded by the NIH and other funding agencies since 2004. He is an Expert NIH Reviewer with service on multiple committees focused on Respiratory Biology, Hematology and Genomics. In 2016 he received an Appreciation Award as Founder of the Ghana Biomedical Convention. As Centre Leader of WAGMC, he is spearheading efforts to train the first cohort of postgraduate genetic counsellors and medical genetics scientists in West Africa reflecting his continued efforts to promote all aspects of biomedical science in the region.

Ananyo Choudhury

Ananyo Choudhury is a Senior Scientist at the Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience, University of Witwatersrand, He is a co-lead of the AWI-Gen consortium analyst team and co-chairs the H3Africa Genome Analysis working group. He has contributed to several recent genomic studies conducted in Africa such as the H3Africa genotyping array design, the H3Africa Whole Genome Sequence Study and the Southern African Human Genome Program. His key interest areas are population genomics and genomics of complex traits. He obtained his basic training in Zoology from the University of Kalyani and a Ph.D. in Bioinformatics from the University of Calcutta, India.