Professor Himla Soodyall is renowned across the globe for her groundbreaking genetic research into the peoples of sub-Saharan Africa. Her studies have identified some of the oldest DNA found in living people today, adding weight to the theory that modern humans evolved in the area now known as Southern Africa.

Did you know?

Himla Soodyall is a principal investigator on the Genographic Project, an unprecedented study of the human genetic legacy.

Professor Himla Soodyall didn't always want to be a human geneticist. As a medical scientist, Professor Himla Soodyall had always displayed an aptitude for science and originally ventured into the world of microbiology, completing a BSc and Honours degree in microbiology and a BSc in biochemistry.

Then the field of genetics caught Professor Himla Soodyall's eye and before long she was completing her Master's and PhD degrees in human genetics at Johannesburg's University of the Witwatersrand. As a medical academic, Professor Himla Soodyall found herself entering a world dominated by white, male scientists and grappled with where and how she would fit in.

But her determination to succeed saw her being offered a post working under renowned geneticist, Professor Trefor Jenkins, at the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS). Jenkins became Soodyall's mentor and under his guidance she flourished, landing a fellowship to Pennsylvania State University.

This opened up an exciting new world to Soodyall as she met and worked with internationally acclaimed geneticists, including Mark Stoneking, who were pioneering research into subjects such as molecular evolutionary genetics.

She returned to South Africa where she continued her research, specifically on the genetic affinities and histories of Southern Africa's people, and the prehistory and evolution of modern humans.

In 1999, Soodyall received the President's Award from the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the Vice-Chancellor's Award for Research from Wits University, and in 2005 the Bronze National Order of Mapungubwe from President Thabo Mbeki for outstanding contribution in the field of science.

In 2005, she was appointed the sub-Saharan African principal investigator on the Genographic Project − a five-year, worldwide project undertaken by the National Geographic Society to map humanity's migratory history. Results have been published in many prestigious journals, and Soodyall is on record as saying that 'the findings are a phenomenal tribute to the indigenous people of southern Africa. We have given them an opportunity to reclaim their place in the history of the world.'

Soodyall is Director of the Human Genomic Diversity & Disease Research Unit at Wits and is highly regarded for her critical insights, passion for science and efforts to promote public understanding of this subject.