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Himladevi Soodyall (1963 - )

The Order of Mapungubwe in

Himladevi Soodyall (1963 - ) Awarded for:
Outstanding contributions in the field of science.

Profile of Himladevi Soodyall

Himladevi Soodyall was born in Durban in 1963 and attended Gandhi-Desai High School. After matriculation she enrolled at the University of Durban-Westville, obtaining BSc and BSc (Hons) degrees before moving to Johannesburg in 1986 to register for an MSc in biotechnology at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Soodyall joined the South African Institute for Medical Research (SAIMR) in 1987 as a medical scientist, working with Professor Trefor Jenkins in the Department of Human Genetics. Under his guidance and supervision she completed her part-time doctoral research in the field of human population and evolutionary genetics, obtaining a PhD in 1993.

She was awarded a Fogarty International Fellowship from the National Institutes of Health in the United States and spent the next four years at Penn State University, Pennsylvania. There she carried out post-doctoral research with Professor Mark Stoneking, one of the first researchers to advance the 'Out of Africa’ hypothesis on human origins.

In 1996 Soodyall returned to the SAIMR and set up her own laboratory, conducting population and evolutionary genetics research within the Department of Human Genetics. In 1999 her work was recognised when she received the President's Award from the NRF and the university's Vice-Chancellor's Award for Research.

In 2001 she was appointed director of the Human Genomic Diversity and Disease Research Unit (HGDDRU), which the Medical Research Council had established in partnership with the university and the National Health Laboratory Service, as the SAIMR was now called. She is currently a principal medical scientist at the NHLS as well as an associate professor at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits).

In her research Soodyall employs the tools commonly used in molecular biology to study segments of the human genome in living people and to reconstruct the prehistory and evolution of modern humans. By using different types of DNA markers, her research has shown that living Khoi and San populations have retained some of the ancestral DNA signatures found in modern humans, making southern Africa the most likely geographic region of origin of the human species.

As a result of her work, Soodyall has been invited to participate in the global Genographic Project, a five-year project which was launched on 13 April 2005 by the National Geographic Society in partnership with IBM and the Waitt Family Foundation, as the principal investigator for sub-Saharan Africa.

In addition to her outstanding work on human origins, Himladevi Soodyall is tireless in her efforts to bring understanding about her research both to scholars and to the general public, works to advance research in South Africa and is actively involved in broadening public understanding of science.