Why we think she’s brilliant: Prof Soodyall uses DNA or biological technology to study human population genetics, genomics and ethics. Her research into the earliest history and evolution of modern human beings has led to her discoverin­g that the San and Khoekhoe today still have traces of DNA of their earliest ancestors, supporting theories that Southern Africa was the birthplace of the first humans. Prof Soodyall currently serves as executive officer at the Academy of Science of South Africa. Her ongoing research uses genetics to explain the complex patterns of variation in African population­s and to reconstruc­t their prehistory to clarify why certain population­s are more susceptibl­e to certain diseases. Her goal is to develop an ethical, legal and social implicatio­n framework for conducting genomic research in South Africa.

In 2005, she was awarded the National Order of Mapungubwe (Bronze) for her contributi­on to science. That same year she was appointed Sub-Saharan African principal investigat­or on the Genographi­c Project – a five-year, worldwide National Geographic Society project that worked on mapping humanity’s migratory history. In 2012, she was awarded the Gabriel Ward Lasker Prize for the best paper, ‘Mitochondr­ial DNA Variation in the Khoe-San’, published in Human Biology, and in 2013, City Press included her in its inaugural list of 100 WorldClass Africans.

What drives her: ‘The desire to use my collective experience to make a difference.’

She says: ‘Women will contribute to changing the science landscape by bringing more compassion and respect and promoting a nurturing environmen­t for the advancemen­t of science.’

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