NBIA Colloquium – Niels Bohr Institute - University of Copenhagen

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Niels Bohr Institute > Calendar > 2008 > NBIA Colloquium

NBIA Colloquium

Speaker: Eske Willerslev (University of Copenhagen)

Title: Ancient DNA

Abstract: 

In the past two decades, ancient DNA research has progressed from the
retrieval of small fragments of mitochondrial DNA from a few late Holocene
specimens, to large-scale studies of ancient populations, phenotypically
important nuclear loci, and even whole mitochondrial genome sequences of
extinct species. However, the field is still regularly marred by erroneous
reports, which underestimate the extent of contamination within laboratories
and samples themselves. An improved understanding of these processes and the
effects of damage on ancient DNA templates has started to provide a more
robust basis for research. Recent methodological advances have included the
characterization of Pleistocene mammal populations and discoveries of DNA
preserved in ancient sediments. Increasingly, ancient genetic information is
providing a unique means to test assumptions used in evolutionary and
population genetics studies to reconstruct the past. Initial results have
revealed surprisingly complex population histories, and indicate that modern
phylogeographic studies may give misleading impressions about even the
recent evolutionary past. With the advent and uptake of appropriate
methodologies, ancient DNA is now positioned to become a powerful tool in
biological research and is also evolving new and unexpected uses, such as in
the search for extinct or extant life in the deep biosphere and on other
planets.