Comparative Human Biology

Mission statement

First and foremost, we are anthropologists, dedicated to a multi-level, comparative biocultural approach to understanding the human condition, the bases of our similarities and differences, and the pathways to and consequences of human diversity. We are concerned about these issues not solely for their scientific significance, but also because we are convinced that such an approach makes a distinctive, substantial contribution to the enterprise of explaining and alleviating differential well-being. Therefore, we work on three scientific fronts: empirical research in the field and laboratory, method development, and integrative theory or model building and testing which ground both further research and applications to the conduct of human affairs. We also believe that the best science of this kind emerges from a cooperative, collaborative, cross-disciplinary approach that brings together the people and resources as required to match the nature and scope of the question under investigation.

The agenda of the Laboratory is three-fold.

MISSION 1

Our research probes cultural, behavioral, and biological bases of differential human well-being, and investigates the relationships among them. As noted above, we do this not simply in a spirit of academic inquiry, but also to fuel the "need to know" imperative for informing humans¹ understandings of themselves and their place in the world, and the values and decision-making that devolve from these understandings. In particular, we seek to develop and apply models of biocultural processes to address the substantial gaps in our empirical knowledge about the relationships between culture and biology in human evolution, ontogeny, behavior, and cognition.

We rely heavily on comparative analysis, between populations and species, and across time (acute, developmental, evolutionary), because it can reveal unexpected sources of human variation and expose an apparently innate feature as a contingent, mutable one. Thus, new light is shed on unexamined assumptions about how things must or should work. Most are familiar with this comparative anthropological approach to culture, through which we can see that the world of behavior and meaning that we take for granted may be very differently but equally coherently organized in other societies. Similarly, comparative human biology opens windows onto unsuspected variation and its possible causes and consequences. This expanded scientific vision can inform the global health and other policy efforts to ameliorate or prevent human suffering and enhance human well-being.

MISSION 2

From the outset, we have aimed to promote a more distributive approach to the use of biological measures in social science by offering advice and collaboration to non-laboratory based researchers. Lack of human capitol, infrastructure, or resources can present formidable barriers to use of biological measures by even the most motivated social scientist. We have sought to overcome these barriers, and have advised or collaborated with researchers at varying stages of seniority (students to senior investigators) and from a wide range of disciplines (pediatrics, psychiatry, clinical chemistry; medical, cultural, and physical anthropology; developmental and social psychology).

MISSION 3

Since its inception in 1987, the Laboratory's directive has been to provide a state-of-the-art research facility with top-quality instrumentation and equipment and the latest methodologies performed with highest regard to quality control and quality assurance. We began as an endocrinology laboratory with capabilities to measure a wide range of hormones in serum and saliva using both radioimmunoassay and fluoroimmunometric techniques. Over the years we have expanded our scope of inquiry, continually upgraded and purchased new instrumentation as needed, and developed new methodologies in order to accommodate growing research interests and ranges of inquiry among diverse global populations. Our blood spot methods exemplify our commitment to developing assays that allow pursuit of knowledge regarding human biology among groups difficult or impossible to study with currently available methods. These initiatives come from our own research interests (Emory graduate students, staff, and faculty associated with the Laboratory) as well as from our collaborating scientists at other universities. Throughout the years, we have trained undergraduate and graduate students, as well as faculty from other universities, in laboratory science, procedures, and methodologies to facilitate their own pursuits in topics of interest to them. The Laboratory directive remains unchanged, and we look forward to continued growth and collaboration with students and colleagues.

Laboratory Description

The Laboratory is located within the Department of Anthropology, in roughly 1300 sq ft of well-equipped laboratory space, along with adjoining cold room (50 sq ft), laboratory office, and equipment/storage room. Capacities include radioimmunoassay, enzyme-linked immunoassay, and fluoro-immunometric, spectrophotometric, and turbidimetric assays. Available are secure refrigerator and freezer space, and appropriate small equipment (pipettors, nutators, balances, pH meter, vortexers, incubators, etc.). The Laboratory also features state-of-the-art hardware and software for data reduction and analysis, preparation of presentations and publications, lecture and teaching laboratory preparation, networking within and outside the University, access to all major biblioresearch databases, and off-site direct exchange of data.