NYCEP Alumnus Profile

Kirstin Sterner

Assistant Professor Department of Anthropology University of Oregon


B.A. 2001, New York University M.A. 2005, New York University M.Phil. 2007, New York University Ph.D. 2009, New York University



Overview of Research

Primate Comparative and Functional Genomics

The amount of primate sequence data being produced each year has grown exponentially since the publication of the human genome. Are we any closer to pinpointing the genetic basis for uniquely human traits? I am interested in the use of comparative and functional genomics to explore the genetic differences between humans and nonhuman primates that underlie species-specific phenotypes. I am currently using such approaches to examine human specific changes in brain metabolism and neuroplasticity.

Primate Innate Immune Defense and Adaptation to Viral Infection

It is well recognized that adaptive responses to environmental pressures can influence a primate’s genome, morphology or even behavior. Pathogens, specifically viruses, have been part of the primate environment for millions of years and variation observed in primate susceptibility to viral infection and disease suggests that the genomes of some primates are better adapted to co-exist with certain viruses. In order to understand these adaptations, my dissertation research examined the evolutionary history of a selection of genes (including TLR7, MyD88, TRAF6, TRAF3, IRAK1, IRAK4, IKKa, SPPI, and IRF7) involved in the innate immune system across a wide cross-section of primates.

Primate Molecular Systematics

I have been involved in a number of research projects using mitochondrial sequence to examine the molecular phylogeny of the living primates. My M.A. thesis research used whole mitochondrial genome sequence of eight colobines (or leaf –eating monkeys) to infer the evolutionary relationships among the genera of the subfamily Colobinae. My results support a monophyletic clade of odd-nosed colobines consisting of Nasalis, Pygathrix, and Rhinopithecus. These data have been published in Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution (see publications below).


Goodman, M and KN Sterner. Phylogenomic evidence of adaptive evolution in the ancestry of humans. The Arthur M. Sackler Colloquia Series, In the Light of Evolution IV: The Human Condition, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. Submitted.

Goodman, M, KN Sterner, M Islam, M Uddin, CC Sherwood, PR Hof, Z-C Hou, L Lipovich, J Hui, LI Grossman, and DE Wildman. 2009. Phylogenomic analyses reveal convergent patterns of adaptive evolution in elephant and human ancestries. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 106(49):20824-20829.

Hodgson, JA, KN Sterner, LJ Matthews, AS Burrell, RA Jani, RL Raaum, C-B Stewart, and TR Disotell. 2009. Successive radiations, not stasis, in the South American primate fauna. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 106(14):5534-9.

Sterner KN, RL Raaum, Y-P Zhang, C-B Stewart, TR Disotell. 2006. Mitochondrial data support an odd-nosed colobine clade. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 40(1): 1-7.

Raaum RL, KN Sterner, CM Noviello, C-B Stewart, TR Disotell. 2005. Catarrhine primate divergence dates estimated from complete mitochondrial genomes: concordance with fossil and nuclear DNA evidence. Journal of Human Evolution. 48(3): 237-57.