martes, 22 de marzo de 2016

A golden age of ancient DNA science begins

A reconstruction of a male our evolutionary cousin the Neanderthals (Modified from an image by Cicero Moraes). Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

If I had taken a straw poll among anthropologists 10 years ago asking them how far genetic research would come in the next decade, I doubt anyone would have come close to predicting the big impact fossil DNA work would come to have.

Back then, this nascent field was bogged down with fundamental issues like distinguishing authentic DNA from contamination. Simply recovering enough nuclear DNA to say anything sensible at all about human origins would have been a really big achievement.

But following some remarkable technical developments in that time, including next generation sequencing, ancient DNA research is beginning to come of age.

And it’s no exaggeration to say that it’s dramatically rewriting our understanding of the human evolutionary story and, unexpectedly, resolving some old, seemingly intractable, questions along the way.

I say ‘beginning’ because despite the remarkable findings over the last half decade or so, many of which I have written about before, ancient DNA, particularly fossil genome research, has really only just begun.

But, boy, what start! [...]