Friday, 23 October 2015

Clan of the cave bear: researching ancient DNA

Reconstruction of a cave bear (Ursus spelaeus)
Uploaded by Sergiodlarosa to Wikimedia Commons (CC)
The proceedings of a Royal Society discussion meeting on ancient DNA have just been published (here). Three reviews in particular captured my interest.

Ancient DNA: the first three decades by Hagelberg, Hofreiter and Keyser (here) is a lucid account of the history of the field (a major advance was shotgun sequencing as applied to the cave bear). It highlights not only high profile papers from Nature and Science (some of them reviewed in my blog), but also gives credit to important follow up studies from specialist journals. A very useful ressource indeed!

Ancient genomics by Der Sarkissian et al. (here) is from the renowned Centre for GeoGenetics in Copenhagen. This review is especially strong on the technical advances in the field and even includes a user's manual. With the techniques initially available it would have required 180 kg of material and 130 million amplicons to generate a first draft of the cave bear genome. A lot has happened since then. They conclude that even "Looking back 5 years, no one could have predicted the current state of current genomics."

Almost 20 years of Neanderthal palaeogenetics by S├ínchez-Quinto and Lalueza-Fox (here) does a remarkably good job of surveying what has been learned from the DNA of Neanderthals from various geographical locations. It covers more than just their relations to and interbreeding with Denisovans and modern humans (previous post). A great deal can be inferred about their demographics, population size and ultimate extinction.

ISBN 0-517-54202-1

 The title of this post is of course an homage to the fiction of Jean M. Auel. The clan of the cave bear are Neanderthals who interact (and interbreed) with modern humans. First published in 1980 it far anticipated the scientific evidence given in the above reviews.

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