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Stephen Oppenheimer

Professor Stephen Oppenheimer is recognized for creating a unique synthesis of genetic, archaeological, and climatic evidence in order to track the ancient migrations of all modern non-Africans.

Trained in Medicine at Oxford, Stephen Oppenheimer spent 17 of the 25 years spanning 1972 to 1997 working as a paediatrician in the tropics, while at the same time maintaining UK academic links, and spending the remaining periods based in Oxford and with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. Tropical locations included Southeast Asia, the Far East, the Southwest Pacific and Kenya. During this time, he also carried out and published clinical research in nutrition, infectious disease and genetics. While in New Guinea (1979-1982) doing fieldwork for his DM Thesis on the clinical effects of iron supplementation, Prof Oppenheimer made two serendipitous discoveries that would eventually lead him to a new research focus in genetics; one of these was that the very common and mild genetic disorder alpha+ thalassaemia protected against malaria, the other was that the numerous genotypes of thalassaemia found in the Pacific could be used as markers to trace prehistoric migrations. Following the publication of the results of his fieldwork Prof Oppenheimer moved, first to Malaysia, where he was Associate Professor at Universiti Sains Malaysia, thence to Hong Kong in the 1990s where he was Professor of Paediatrics and Departmental Chair at CUHK. During this period he supervised in vitro studies on mechanisms underlying the thalassaemia protective effects against malaria. During the 1990’s, he developed his interest in the use of genetic mutations as migration markers, combined with other prehistoric disciplines, to illuminate the prehistory of Southeast Asia and the Pacific – this eventually became the new focus of his career and research.

After his return to England in 1997, Prof Oppenheimer chose to concentrate on his research and publications. Following the publication of his first book Eden in the East: the drowned continent of Southeast Asia, Prof Oppenheimer was approached to make a documentary on the book. He then acted as Series Consultant on the series based on his second book Out of Eden: the peopling of the world (The Real Eve in USA)”. While busy with publications, giving public lectures and continuing genetics research, Prof Oppenheimer has also found time to raise £65,000 for his collaborative genetics work with colleagues in Leeds, Huddersfield & Glasgow.

Elected to Green College, Oxford in 1999, Prof Oppenheimer is also a research associate of the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology of the School of Anthropology, University of Oxford and also affiliated as Honorary Research Fellow to the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

Research areas
• Iron supplementation and malaria (1979-present)
• Alpha thalassaemia and its interactions with iron and malaria (1982-2005)
• Human migrations in the Pacific (1982-present)
• Modern human exit from Africa (1999-present)

Selected publications
• Oppenheimer, Stephen (2012) Out-of-Africa, the peopling of continents & islands: tracing uniparental gene trees across the map. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (embargoed online publication Feb 6th 2012, available online at: doi:10.1098/rstb.2011.0306)
• Oppenheimer, Stephen (2011) A Single Southern Exit of Modern Humans from Africa: Before or After Toba? Quaternary International, available online at
• Oppenheimer, Stephen (2011) “MtDNA variation and southward Holocene human dispersals within Mainland Southeast Asia”. Chapter 5, in N. J. Enfield (ed.) “The Dynamics of Human Diversity: The Case of Mainland Southeast Asia.”, Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, 107, 81-108.
• Soares, P., Rito, T., Trejaut, J., Mormina, M., Hill, C., Tinkler-Hundal, E., Braid, M., Clarke, D., Loo, J-H., Thomson, N., Denham, T., Donohue, M., Macaulay, V., Lin, M., Oppenheimer, S., Richards, M.B. (2011), Ancient Voyaging and Polynesian Origins. The American Journal of Human Genetics 88, 1–9.
• Oppenheimer, Stephen. (2009), The great arc of dispersal of modern humans: Africa to Australia, Quaternary International. 202: 2–13. Available online at: doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2008.05.015
• Soares, P, Trejaut JA, Loo JH, Hill C, Mormina M, Lee CL, Chen YM, Hudjashov G, Forster P, Macaulay V, Bulbeck D, Oppenheimer S, Lin M, Richards MB. (2008) Climate change and post-glacial human dispersals in Southeast Asia Molecular Biology and Evolution 25(6):1209-1218.