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Melissa A. Ilardo

Melissa A. Ilardo, PhD

Languages spoken: Danish, English, French, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Kannada, Spanish

Academic Information

Departments Primary - Biomedical Informatics

Research Statement

Most medical genetics research has focused on disease and ‘fixing what is wrong. It has also focused almost exclusively on European ancestry individuals. Our lab asks: what if we celebrate what makes people unique and resilient, instead of what makes them ill?

Indigenous human populations have inhabited nearly every environment on earth, adopting survival strategies that range from desert foraging to deep-sea diving. An extraordinary array of adaptation has arisen from these environments and lifestyles, resulting in physiological advantages. Our research explores evolution in these superhuman populations. Thus far, we have partnered with two populations who engage in the practice of breath-hold diving: The Bajau Sea Nomads of Indonesia and the Haenyeo (all-female) divers of Jeju, Korea. By understanding and replicating the biology of these unique populations, we can leverage the power of natural selection to improve the wellness of all.

Selected Publications

Journal Article

  1. Ilardo M, Dos Santos MCF, Grote Beverborg N, Rajan M, Said MA, Verweij N, Van Der Harst P, Van Der Meer P, Leibold EA (2022). An Erythropoietin-Independent Mechanism of Erythrocytic Precursor Proliferation Underlies Hypoxia Tolerance in Sea Nomads. Front Physiol, 12, 760851. (Read full article)
  2. Ilardo M, Bose R, Meringer M, Rasulev B, Grefenstette N, Stephenson J, Freeland S, Gillams RJ, Butch CJ, Cleaves HJ 2nd (2019). Adaptive Properties of the Genetically Encoded Amino Acid Alphabet Are Inherited from Its Subsets. Sci Rep, 9(1), 12468. (Read full article)
  3. de Barros Damgaard P, Martiniano R, Kamm J, Moreno-Mayar JV, Kroonen G, Peyrot M, Barjamovic G, Rasmussen S, Zacho C, Baimukhanov N, Zaibert V, Merz V, Biddanda A, Merz I, Loman V, Evdokimov V, Usmanova E, Hemphill B, Seguin-Orlando A, Yediay FE, Ullah I, Sjgren KG, Iversen KH, Choin J, de la Fuente C, Ilardo M, Schroeder H, Moiseyev V, Gromov A, Polyakov A, Omura S, Senyurt SY, Ahmad H, McKenzie C, Margaryan A, Hameed A, Samad A, Gul N, Khokhar MH, Goriunova OI, Bazaliiskii VI, Novembre J, Weber AW, Orlando L, Allentoft ME, Nielsen R, Kristiansen K, Sikora M, Outram AK, Durbin R, Willerslev E (2018). The first horse herders and the impact of early Bronze Age steppe expansions into Asia. Science, 360(6396). (Read full article)
  4. Ilardo MA, Moltke I, Korneliussen TS, Cheng J, Stern AJ, Racimo F, de Barros Damgaard P, Sikora M, Seguin-Orlando A, Rasmussen S, van den Munckhof ICL, Ter Horst R, Joosten LAB, Netea MG, Salingkat S, Nielsen R, Willerslev E (2017). Physiological and Genetic Adaptations to Diving in Sea Nomads. Cell, 173(3), 569-580.e15. (Read full article)
  5. Ullah I, Olofsson JK, Margaryan A, Ilardo M, Ahmad H, Sikora M, Hansen AJ, Shahid Nadeem M, Fazal N, Ali M, Buchard A, Hemphill BE, Willerslev E, Allentoft ME (2017). High Y-chromosomal Differentiation Among Ethnic Groups of Dir and Swat Districts, Pakistan. Ann Hum Genet, 81(6), 234-248. (Read full article)
  6. Guttenberg N, Laneuville M, Ilardo M, Aubert-Kato N (2015). Transferable Measurements of Heredity in Models of the Origins of Life. PLoS One, 10(10), e0140663. (Read full article)
  7. Ilardo M, Meringer M, Freeland S, Rasulev B, Cleaves HJ 2nd (2015). Extraordinarily adaptive properties of the genetically encoded amino acids. Sci Rep, 5, 9414. (Read full article)
  8. Gaidos E, Rusch A, Ilardo M (2010). Ribosomal tag pyrosequencing of DNA and RNA from benthic coral reef microbiota: community spatial structure, rare members and nitrogen-cycling guilds. Environ Microbiol, 13(5), 1138-52. (Read full article)


  1. Prohaska A, Racimo F, Schork AJ, Sikora M, Stern AJ, Ilardo M, Allentoft ME, Folkersen L, Buil A, Moreno-Mayar JV, Korneliussen T, Geschwind D, Ingason A, Werge T, Nielsen R, Willerslev E (2018). Human Disease Variation in the Light of Population Genomics. [Review]. Cell, 177(1), 115-131. (Read full article)
  2. Ilardo M, Nielsen R (2018). Human adaptation to extreme environmental conditions. [Review]. Curr Opin Genet Dev, 53, 77-82. (Read full article)
  3. Cappellini E, Prohaska A, Racimo F, Welker F, Pedersen MW, Allentoft ME, de Barros Damgaard P, Gutenbrunner P, Dunne J, Hammann S, Roffet-Salque M, Ilardo M, Moreno-Mayar JV, Wang Y, Sikora M, Vinner L, Cox J, Evershed RP, Willerslev E (2018). Ancient Biomolecules and Evolutionary Inference. [Review]. Annu Rev Biochem, 87, 1029-1060. (Read full article)