Monday, May 01, 2017

Scientists Use Revolutionary Technological Advance to Locate Human DNA

The Telegraph (and other outlets) are reporting on an incredible breakthrough that allows the recovery of human DNA from sediment where no actual human fossil remains exist:
The researchers collected 85 sediment samples from seven caves in Europe and Russia that humans are known to have entered or even lived during the Pleistocene, between 14,000 and 550,000 years ago.

By refining a method previously used to find plant and animal DNA, they were able to search specifically for genetic material belonging to ancient humans and other mammals.

"This work represents an enormous scientific breakthrough," said Antonio Rosas, scientist at Spain's Natural Science Museum in Madrid.

"We can now tell which species of hominid occupied a cave and on which particular stratigraphic level, even when no bone or skeletal remains are present."

Scientists focused on mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down the maternal line, because it is particularly suited to telling apart closely related species. By analysing damaged molecules they were able to separate ancient genetic material from any contamination left behind by modern visitors.
It is difficult to overestimate the importance and impact this will have on the anthropological world. This technique will allow us to reconstruct migration routes, occupational histories, times of first appearance in an area and many other aspects of Neandertal, Denisovan and modern human demography.This will open doors to research that we can only begin to imagine.

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