Expanding Minds - The Allen Institute Conference on Human Brain Evolution

Join us April 1-2, 2020 at the Allen Institute for Expanding Minds - The Allen Institute Conference on Human Brain Evolution, chaired by Chris Walsh, M.D., Ph.D., Michael Greenberg, Ph.D., and David Reich, Ph.D., of the Allen Discovery Center at Boston Children's Hospital. The goal of the conference is to provide a multidisciplinary perspective on the questions that intersect genetics, neurobiology, and evolution to shed light on the very nature of who we are.

To this end, the conference will encourage a conversation that transcends disciplines to better understand whether the genetics and function of brain cells may be the substrate of uniquely human features and behaviors. The program will promote dialogue on how to leverage our ancestors’ DNA and current methodologies to make concrete and tangible efforts toward progress in an area with profound impact on biology, psychology, and human condition.

Click below to apply to attend the conference. Explore the event overview on this page and browse all invited speakers and their talk abstracts by clicking below.

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speaker bios & talk info  View Agenda

04/01/2020 to 04/02/2020

Allen Institute
615 Westlake Avenue N.
Seattle, WA 98109



  • Registration is via application, with no application fee.
  • The organizing committee will confirm registration applications regularly.

If you have any questions about your registration application, please contact

Event Overview

Wednesday, April 1:

  • Registration & Breakfast (provided). 8:30-9:00am
  • Welcome Remarks, 9:00am
  • Opening keynote by Christof Koch, 9:10-10:10am
  • Morning talks, 10:10am-12:25pm
  • Networking lunch (provided), 12:25-2:05pm
  • Brainstorm session #1 - "Studying and using ancient DNA", chaired by David Reich, 1:00-2:00pm

Ancient DNA is a new reagent in the study of human evolution. In this brainstorming session, we will discuss the generation of ancient DNA datasets over geographical space and time, the application of ancient DNA datasets to biological and anthropological questions, strategies for the use of ancient DNA in ongoing studies, and future priorities for the use and dissemination of ancient DNA.

  • Afternoon talks, 2:05-3:45pm
  • Panel discussion - "What are uniquely human features?", chaired by Liran Carmel, 3:45-4:45pm
    • Patricia Churchland
    • Christof Koch
    • Fenna Krienen
    • Hongkui Zeng
    • Mike Greenberg
    • Erin Hecht
  • Poster session, 4:45-6:45pm
  • Social reception at Dockside at Dukes, 7:00-9:30pm

Thursday, April 2:

  • Registration & Breakfast (provided). 8:30-9:00am
  • Morning talks, 9:00am-12:15pm
  • Networking lunch (provided), 12:15-1:55pm
  • Brainstorm session #2 - "Technical gaps in human brain evolution studies", led by Chris Walsh, 12:50-1:50pm

Studying human brain evolution is a pursuit that requires multidisciplinary insights from biology, genetics, and the field. In this brainstorming session, we invite the community to discuss the future of research of human brain evolution, the major technical hurdles, and the seeding of new disciplines that would accelerate technical progress in this field.

  • Afternoon talks, 1:55-2:45pm
  • Panel discussion - "How should we study human brain evolution?", chaired by Mark Harnett, 2:45-4:05pm
    • Rebecca Hodge
    • Alex Pollen
    • Sarah Tishkoff
    • Phillip Gunz
    • Flora Vaccarino
  • Closing keynote by Patricia Churchland, 4:05-5:05pm
  • Brainstorm Session Themes and Summary Remarks, 5:05-5:15pm

view Agenda

Symposium Chairs

Christopher A. Walsh, M.D., Ph.D.
Bullard Professor of Pediatrics and Neurology, Harvard Medical School
Chief, Division of Genetics and Genomics, Boston Children's Hospital
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Associate Member, Broad Institute

Michael E. Greenberg, Ph.D.
Chair, Department of Neurobiology
Nathan Marsh Pusey Professor
Harvard Medical School

David E. Reich, Ph.D.
Professor, Harvard Medical School
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Associate Member, Broad Institute