Professor Stephen Oppenheimer
Summary of main research interests
My research over the past 30 years can be summarized as follows:
1) Work on iron supplementation and malaria (1979-present): As a result of my own thesis findings and several updated meta-analyses of the world literature that I have published, it is clear there are risks of iron supplementation in malarious areas. It has been my long-term aim to change global policy on iron supplementation in malarious areas. This aim was partly achieved at meetings in 2006 with WHO & UNICEF.
2) Work on alpha thalassaemia and its interactions with iron and malaria (1982-2005). I was the first to notice the altitudinal difference in alpha thalassaemia prevalence in Papua New Guinea and to suggest this was due to natural selection by malaria (Oppenheimer et al, Lancet, 1984 & ff. see publications). I carried on my interest in thalassaemia in Hong Kong with a PhD student and other collaborators in my department, setting up a project to look at non-immunological mechanisms of protection. This involved growth of malarial parasites in vitro in age-fractionated red cells under different stress conditions. This work has produced a robust and tested model of anti-malarial protection based on oxidant stress and schizont maturation arrest.
3) My work on human migrations in the Pacific (1982-present), was first stimulated 27 years ago, when I started to examine the distribution of different single-deletion alpha-thalassaemia genotypes by language and geography in the Southwest Pacific. I have been interested in Pacific and Southeast Asian migrations ever since and this was the main impetus to write my first book Eden in the East (1998). I have published a number of peer-reviewed articles in this field. The core hypothesis in my work is an alternative model to the peopling of the Pacific from the orthodox ‘Express Train from Taiwan to Polynesia’. The orthodox model proposes a Late Holocene agriculturally driven expansion from Taiwan, while mine argues for a longer-term Early Holocene, environmentally-driven, staged-expansion beyond the Wallace Line.
4) Work on the modern human exit from Africa (1999-present): I made a multidisciplinary reconstruction of a single successful pre-Toba Eruption (i.e. pre-74,000 BP) exit from sub-Saharan Africa via the southern route across the mouth of the Red Sea in my book Out of Eden (2003). A 7,150-word summary I wrote in 1999, and an article in the Geographic Magazine in 2002 (The First Exodus) anticipated the reconstruction in my book. I have since authored/co-authored several peer-reviewed publications on this in Science and other journals – listed in the CV. Out of Eden has become a best-seller in English, Spanish and Japanese.
5) I published a third book, The Origins of the British: a genetic detective story in 2006, which has since become a bestseller and I have been asked to give numerous public and academic lectures on this and the previous two books.
6) Apart from the areas mentioned above, my other research and publications as a tropical paediatrician have focused on infectious disease, epidemiology and on micronutrient deficiencies/supplementation such as iron, calcium and riboflavin.
For a brief biographical sketch please click here.