UO anthropologist Snodgrass is a 'Scientist to Watch'

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Josh Snodgrass
Josh Snodgrass

Human adaptation to environmental and other challenges is what intrigues J. Josh Snodgrass, a biological anthropologist at the University of Oregon. His work in Siberia and Ecuador, in particular, has caught the fancy of The Scientist, a magazine for professionals in the life sciences.

Snodgrass, who joined the UO in 2005, is the magazine's newest "Scientist to Watch," a monthly selection that calls attention to rising leaders in the field. His story appeared Aug. 1 in print and on the website of The Scientist.

"It's an honor to be selected and a huge surprise," said Snodgrass, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology. "More than anything else, I'm excited about getting more exposure for my research projects, including my long-term, collaborative field projects in Siberia and Ecuador."

The Scientist noted his early work, just after completing a bachelor's degree at the University of California, Santa Cruz, as an apprentice forensic anthropologist with Clyde Snow, who has worked high-profile investigations around the world. Snodgrass was with Snow on a team of forensic scientists working for Physicians for Human Rights that studied and identified human remains pulled from mass graves in the former Yugoslavia, including from the city of Srebrenica, the scene of a massacre in July 1995, in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Two years later, as a master's degree student at the University of Florida, Snodgrass switched to another area of biological anthropology.

A major on-going project for Snodgrass at the UO is his work among the indigenous Shuar population in the Amazonia region of Ecuador.

Most recently, in collaboration with UO colleague Lawrence S. Sugiyama, a team of their UO students and researchers from other institutions, Snodgrass showed that a key measure for understanding chronic health risk in wealthy countries -- levels of C-reactive protein -- is not as telling among the Shuar, possibly because of their exposure to microbes. That study was published in May 2012 in the American Journal of Human Biology.

Last December, Snodgrass and his master's degree adviser Susan C. Antón of New York University published a well-received paper on the "Origins and Evolution of Genus Homo" in a special edition of the journal Current Anthropology that was devoted to "Human Biology and the Origins of Homo."

For a perspective piece that concluded the supplement, they reviewed and integrated available data from the early human fossil record and present-day human and primate biology -- an analysis that noted important shifts in human evolutionary history and challenged some long-held thinking in the field.

Their conclusions have the potential to transform the way scientists look at the appearance of our own genus (Homo), the evolutionary transition to Homo erectus (it wasn't as radical as long thought), and how local factors such as mortality risk and climate influence skeletal variation.

Snodgrass earned his doctorate in 2004 from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and then completed a National Institute on Aging-funded postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute for Mind and Biology at the University of Chicago before accepting a faculty post at the UO.

His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, L.S.B. Leakey Foundation and Forensic Science Foundation.

- by Jim Barlow, UO Office of Strategic Communications