Ancient data + modern technology = enhanced understanding

One of the attributes of a successful student is the ability to integrate material from across the curriculum – pulling together knowledge from (say) genetics, evolution, and biotechnology into a coherent whole. Here’s an example of a recent paper that integrates biotechnology techniques and genetics to clarify our understanding of our own evolutionary past.

In a 2006 paper in the journal Nature, Dave Lambert and Craig Millar discuss the use of molecular biology techniques to sequence a partial Neandertal genome (D. Lambert & C. Millar (2006) "Ancient genomics is born." Nature 444: 275-276). They describe two studies that between them sequenced more than a million base pairs of Neandertal DNA, providing data that may ultimately let us answer the question of whether Neandertals and Homo sapiens interbred. These studies also provide an estimate of when the two lineages last shared a common ancestor – somewhere between 370,000 and 516,000 years ago.

How were these sequences obtained? Well, the paper provides an excellent overview of the molecular techniques involved. It's well worth a read for that alone. But it's also a good paper to read as an introduction to the scientific literature: not only it is short (!), but it's also readable by a general audience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *