Who am I? – What makes me human? (2018)

Alice Roberts and Aoife McLysaght

Alice Roberts and Aoife McLysaght explore human evolution, from our earliest ancestors to our journey out of Africa.

Watch time: 59:20

Lecture 2 – What makes me human?

Lecture two of the 2018 CHRISTMAS LECTURES covers the story of our recent evolution from early two-legged hominins to modern humans – revealing how a humble African ape became a successful global species. Alice Roberts and Aoife McLysaght uncover the story of our journey out of Africa as we spread across the globe, and ask what sets us apart from the other, now extinct, hominin species.


You share 99.4% of your genes with your neighbour, 98.7% with a chimp, and even 44% with a fruit fly – yet you are also entirely unique – there is nobody else quite like you.

In the 2018 CHRISTMAS LECTURES, Alice Roberts is joined by Aoife McLysaght to take us on a journey to answer this most fundamental question: who am I?

From how our limbs evolved from fins, to the colour of our eyes, Alice and Aoife investigate our fascinating evolutionary story to reveal how we became who we are today.

We humans tend to view ourselves as separate from the natural world, a special creation even, but we’re far more closely related to the rest of the animal kingdom than you might imagine. We begin by meeting our common animal ancestors, revealing the surprising similarities in our anatomy, development and DNA; and how we’re more closely related to a bat – and even a fruit fly – than you might think. We uncover our place as a humble twig on the vast tree of life.

In this Lecture, Alice and Aoife track the emergence of modern humans and ask what sets us apart from the other, now extinct, hominin species. They show how our human ancestors spread across the globe and diversified to create the extraordinary diversity we see today, asking what makes you different from your neighbour – and how those differences emerge through an interplay between genes and environment. And they look at the latest developments in genetics which lead us to a deeper understanding of human biology, as well as underpinning advances in medicine.

Alice and Aoife bring our evolutionary story to life, taking viewers on an immersive voyage through our shared evolutionary past and asking challenging ethical questions about what the future holds.

This is the story of us – in all its deep-rooted, diverse, and surprising glory.

2018 CHRISTMAS LECTURES supporters