Nielsen Rasmus
Department of Integrative Biology, Department of Statistics
(510) 643-9060

Research Expertise and Interest

statistical and computational aspects of evolutionary theory and genetics


Rasmus Nielsen received his Ph.D. from UC-Berkeley in 1998, did postdoctoral research at Harvard University and worked as an assistant professor at Cornell University from 2000-2004.  From 2004 he has been a Professor of Biology at the University of Copenhagen and he joins the faculty at the departments of Integrative Biology and Statistics at Berkeley as an Associate Professor in Jan. 2008.

Rasmus Nielsen’s research focuses on statistical and computational aspects of evolutionary theory and genetics.  One of the central problems he has been interested in is the molecular basis of evolutionary adaptation.  What happens at the molecular levels as one species is transformed into another over evolutionary time? To address this question he has developed a number of computational methods and applied them to large scale genomic data, such as genomic comparisons of humans and chimpanzees.  Rasmus Nielsen has also worked on statistical methods in other aspects of population genetics, medical genetics, phylogenetics, molecular ecology, and molecular evolution.

He has hitherto primarily been teaching courses in Statistical Genomics, Bioinformatics, and Evolution. His students work on both applied and theoretical problems in population genetics, statistical genetics and evolution.

Example publications:

Nielsen, R. 2005. Molecular signatures of natural selection. Ann. Rev. Genet. 39:197-218.

Nielsen, R., C. Bustamante, A. G. Clark, S. Glanowski, T. B. Sackton, M.J. Hubisz, A. Fledel-Alon, D. M. Tanenbaum, D. Civello, T.J. White, J.Sninsky, M. D. Adams, and M. Cargill. 2005. A scan for positively selected genes in the genomes of humans and chimpanzees. PLoS Biology 3(6): e170.

Williamson, S. H., M. J. Hubisz, A. G. Clark, B. A.Payseur, C. D. Bustamante, and R. Nielsen. 2007. Localizing recent adaptive evolution in the human genome. PLoS Genetics doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.0030090.eor.

Hey J. and R. Nielsen. 2007. Integration within the Felsenstein equation for improved Markov chain Monte Carlo methods in population genetics. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 104: 2785–2790.

For more information see:

In Research News

September 17, 2015

The traditional diet of Greenland natives – the Inuit – is held up as an example of how high levels of omega-3 fatty acids can counterbalance the bad health effects of a high-fat diet, but a new study hints that what’s true for the Inuit may not be true for everyone else.

July 21, 2015

The original Americans came from Siberia in a single wave no more than 23,000 years ago, at the height of the last Ice Age, and apparently hung out in the north – perhaps for thousands of years – before spreading in two distinct populations throughout North and South America, according to a new genomic analysis.

July 2, 2014

Tens of thousands of years ago, the common ancestors of Han Chinese and Tibetans interbred with a mysterious human-like group known as Denisovans and picked up a unique variant of a gene for hemoglobin regulation that later helped them adapt to a low-oxygen environment on the high Tibetan plateau, reports UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology Rasmus Nielsen

Polar bear
May 8, 2014

A comparison of the genomes of polar bears and brown bears reveals that the polar bear is a much younger species than previously believed. Also uncovered were several genes that may be involved in the polar bears’ extreme adaptations to life in the high Arctic.

January 9, 2014

A comparison of Y chromosomes in eight African and eight European men dispels the common notion that the Y‘s genes are mostly unimportant and that the chromosome is destined to dwindle and disappear.

November 21, 2012

The Hawaiian Islands are a unique and ongoing series of evolutionary and ecological experiments. As each volcano rises above the waves, it is colonized by life from neighboring volcanoes and develops its own flora and fauna.

July 1, 2010

UC Berkeley's Rasmus Nielsen teamed up with Chinese researchers to compare the genomes of Tibetans living above 14,000 feet to Han Chinese living at essentially sea level. They found that within the last 3,000 years, Tibetans evolved genetic mutations in a number of genes having to do with how the body deals with oxygen, making it possible for Tibetans to thrive at high altitudes while their Han relatives cannot.

Update Faculty Profile