Sarah A. Tishkoff

Sarah A. Tishkoff is the David and Lyn Silfen University Professor in Genetics and Biology. She holds appointments in the Perelman School of Medicine and the School of Arts & Sciences, and works at the intersection of biomedicine, human genetics, evolutionary genetics and anthropology.

Genetics & Human Evolution

sarah tishkoff

Overcoming hazards in rural Africa such as lack of electricity and water, Sarah Tishkoff has amassed genetic evidence of early human evolutionary history. She has created the world’s largest database of African diversity derived from genetic samples from more than 9,000 people from 200 distinct ethnic groups. This achievement provides a vital resource for biomedical research to improve diagnostics and therapeutics for Africans and African Americans.

Tishkoff’s scholarship expands understanding of ancestry and culture with data gleaned from genetics and metabolism, and may yield insights on causes and possible new treatments for disease. Chair of the NIH Genetics Variation and Evolution study section and recipient of numerous awards including an NIH Pioneer Award, David and Lucile Packard Career Award and a Burroughs-Welcome Career Award, Tishkoff is known for her novel integration of field, lab and computational research with linguistics and anthropology.

Through her studies of indigenous populations, Tishkoff hopes to identify genetic factors in resistance to diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis, and to glean insights to help prevent diabetes and heart disease. She discovered shared ancestry from 30,000 years ago among click-speaking populations currently living in Tanzania, Ethiopia and Kenya. And her studies of lactose intolerance in Eastern Africa have revealed patterns of convergent evolution linked to cattle domestication 5,000 to 10,000 years ago.

Tishkoff teaches undergraduate courses on genomics, human disease and evolution and publishes in ScienceCell, Nature Genetics, the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences, and the American Journal of Human Genetics. Her collaborations at Penn allow her to continually update her research with new methodologies and insights about epigenetics, metabolic disorders and the microbiome.

  • Human Evolutionary Genetics
  • African Genetic Diversity 
  • African Population History
  • Genetic Basis of Resistance to Infectious Diseases
  • Genetic Basis of Adaptation in Humans
  • Genotype/Phenotype Associations 
  • Parmacogenomics

To explore Dr. Tishkoff's work, explore the Tishkoff Lab.  

Academic Writings (Selected)

Ranciaro, A, MC Campbell, JB Hirbo, W-Y Ko, A Froment, G Destro-Bisol, MJ Kotze, M Ibrahim, T Nyambo, SA Omar, SA Tishkoff (2014) Genetic origins of lactase persistence and the spread of pastoralism in AfricaAmerican Journal of Human Genetics94(4):496-510.

Lachance, J., Vernot, B., Elbers, C. C., Ferwerda, B., Froment, A., Bodo, J. M., Lema, G., Fu, W., Nyambo, T. B., Rebbeck, T. R., Zhang, K., Akey, J. M., Tishkoff, S. AEvolutionary history and adaptation from high-coverage whole-genome sequences of diverse African hunter-gatherers. Cell 150(3): 457-69, 2012.

Jarvis, J. P., Scheinfeldt, L. B., Soi, S., Lambert, C., Omberg, L., Ferwerda, B., Froment, A.,Bodo, J. M., Beggs, W., Hoffman, G., Mezey, J., Tishkoff, S. A.. Patterns of ancestry,signatures of natural selection, and genetic association with stature in Western African pygmies. PLoS genetics 8(4): e1002641, 2012.

Campbell, M. C., Ranciaro, A., Froment, A., Hirbo, J., Omar, S., Bodo, J. M., Nyambo, T., Lema, G., Zinshteyn, D., Drayna, D., Breslin, P. A., Tishkoff, S. A.. Evolution of functionally diverse alleles associated with PTC bitter taste sensitivity in Africa. Molecular biology and evolution 29(4): 1141-53, 2012.

Tishkoff, S. A., Reed, F. A., Friedlaender, F. R., Ehret, C., Ranciaro, A., Froment, A., Hirbo, J. B., Awomoyi, A. A., Bodo, J. M., Doumbo, O., Ibrahim, M., Juma, A. T., Kotze, M. J., Lema, G., Moore, J. H., Mortensen, H., Nyambo, T. B., Omar, S. A., Powell, K., Pretorius, G. S., Smith, M. W., Thera, M. A., Wambebe, C., Weber, J. L., Williams, S.M.. The genetic structure and history of Africans and African Americans. Science 324(5930): 1035-44, 2009.

For a full list, visit the Publications Page on the Tishkoff Lab site.

Interviews and Project Coverage (Selected)

"Is It Time to Stop Using Race in Medical Research?NPR, February 5, 2016 (with Dorothy Roberts)

"Why Scientists Decided To Issue an Idictment of Nicholas Wade's Book," History News Network, August 11, 2014

"Brutish and Short? DNA 'Switch' Sheds Light on Neanderthals," NBC News, April 17, 2014

"Penn Team Links Africans' Ability to Digest Milk to Spread of Cattle Raising," Penn News, March 13, 2014

"Why Can We Taste Bitter Flavors? Turns Out, It's Still A Mystery,", November 12, 2013

"A Tale of Two Genes: Penn Team Elucidates Evolution of Bitter Taste Sensitivity," Penn News, November 11, 2013

"For Pygmies, Size May Not Matter," Chronicle of Higher Education, April 26, 2012

"Why Pygmies Are Short: New Evidence Surprises," Scientific American, April 26, 2012

"Penn Geneticist Recieves 2009 National Institutes of Health Pioneer Award," Penn News, September 24, 2009

Videos (Selected)

"African Genomics: Human Evolution," Ibiology, 2013

"Genetic Research + DNA Testing in Africa," GET Conference, 2013

"Interview with Sarah Tishkoff," HHMI BioInteractive, 2013

"CARTA: Culture-Gene Interactions in Human Origins," Women in Science, University of California, February 14, 2013

David M. Silfen & Lyn Silfen


“Our entire family is extraordinarily pleased to make this gift, which will support one of the important cornerstones of the Penn Compact. We are confident that this will build upon the University’s recent success and help insure its vibrant future.”  

 - David Silfen

Lyn Silfen and the late David Silfen, C'66, endowed two David and Lyn Silfen University Professorships in 2006. David Silfen was Vice Chair of the University of Pennsylvania Board of Trustees and Chair of the Board of Overseers of the School of Arts & Sciences. 

  • Jonathan Moreno was named the David and Lyn Silfen University Professor in October 2006. 
  • Sarah Tishkoff was named the David and Lyn Silfen University Associate Professor in January 2008.
  • Ph.D., Yale University (Genetics)
  • M.Phil., Yale University (Human Genetics)
  • B.S., University of California, Berkeley (Anthropology + Genetics)


University Service
  • SAS Planning Group on Diversity, Difference, and Community, member
  • SAS Planning Committee, “Year of Health," member
  • SOM, Task Force to Assist with Planning Child Care Facility, member
  • SOM, The Role of Penn Medicine in the World Working Group, member (2011-2012)
Professional Positions & Affiliations
  • American Society of Human Genetics, member 
  • Association for Women in Science, member
  • Molecular Biology and Evolution Journal, associate editor
  • Genome Research Journal, editorial board
  • G3 (Genes, Genomes, Genetics), associate editor
  • Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health, member
Additional Penn Profiles

Perelman School of Medicine
428 Clinical Research Building, 415 Curie Boulevard
Philadelphia, PA 19104
(215)746-2670 (o)