Ancient DNA

Ancient DNA

DNA analysis of museum and fossil samples is carried out to help understand the evolutionary history and phylogeography of their taxa and relate them to extant representatives of the same taxa or closely related ones. Working on these samples pose technical challenges due to the low amount and poor quality of DNA recovered. We conduct work on these specimens in a dedicated facility located on the 3rd floor of the Environmental Science Center, which is separated from all modern molecular labs to reduce the potential for sample contamination.

Accounts of woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) preserved so well in ice that their meat is still edible have a long history of intriguing the public and influencing paleontological thought on Quaternary extinctions and climate, with some scientists resorting to catastrophism to explain the instantaneous freezing necessary to preserve edible meat. Famously, members of The Explorers Club... Read more
The driving force into the investigation of the evolutionary genetics of Giant Galapagos tortoises, is Dr. Caccone, who has lead a diverse group of scientists spanning the globe, for over 20 years. These iconic animals, not only represent the textbook example of island radiations, but also the play an important role in the ecosystem where they leave. Unfortunately, as we all know, they are highly... Read more
Thirty years ago the field of ancient DNA was launched with the publication of two short mitochondrial DNA sequences from a single Quagga (Equus quagga) museum skin, an extinct South African Equid (Higuchi et al. 1984). This was the first extinct species from which genetic information was retrieved. We isolated DNA from eight Quaggas and an extinct population of the plains Zebra (Equus burchelli... Read more
During the Pleistocene pygmy elephantids, some only a quarter of their ancestor’s size, were present on some Mediterranean islands until about 10,000 years ago (y.a.) Using a whole genomic amplification method we were able to retrieve DNA fragments from 4,200 to 800,000 y.a. samples from island and mainland pygmy and normal-sized forms. Our results challenge the prevailing view that pygmy... Read more
One of the most interesting problems in paleontology is the occurrence in the Quaternary of a rich fauna of endemic dwarf and giant species of vertebrates on several Mediterranean islands, including Sicily, Sardinia, Malta, Tilos, Cyprus, and Crete. In Crete, elephants, hippos, cervids and murids changed; generally, smaller animals increased in size whereas larger animals decreased in size. This... Read more
In the Fall and Summer of 2011 Lars Fehren-Schmitz (University of California, Santa Cruz) conducted several paleogenetic experiments to test DNA preservation in the human remains found at the enigmatic archaeological site of Machu Picchu, Peru. This pilot study was conducted in order to test the feasibility of a larger project engaging the population genetics of Machu Picchu and to explore the... Read more
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