Ancient DNA in the near future

By Razib Khan | October 29, 2011 1:27 pm

I recently inquired if anyone was sequencing Cheddar Man. In case you don’t know, this individual died ~9,000 years ago in Britain, but the remains were well preserved enough that mtDNA was retrieved from him. He was of haplogroup U5, which is still present in the local region. Cheddar Man is also particularly interesting because he is definitely a Paleolithic hunter-gatherer, predating the Neolithic in Britain by thousands of years.

It turns out that no one is looking at Cheddar Man now. But that’s probably because money and time are finite. I was told that there are plenty of other specimens which would also probably be good candidates for sequencing in the Museum’s collection (this doesn’t seem to be a case where curators are being stingy and overprotecting of their specimens). That’s not too surprising. We’ll probably answer a lot of questions about the roles of demographic diffusion vs. cultural diffusion when it comes to agriculture soon enough (as in, over the next 10 years as techniques for getting signal out of old degraded and contaminated samples get better).


Comments (4)

  1. Eze

    I hope they look at Ancient Egyptian aDNA soon, but I have a feeling this field is avoided because of political agendas.

  2. Tom Bri

    In a way, it doesn’t bother me that it is taking so long to get this work done. Techniques are improving so rapidly, that delaying a year or two can result in far superior data. In a case where there is plenty of material, no problem doing it now, but for example Neanderthal teeth well enough preserved to provide good test material are rare.

    I say, do the easy ones now, like the Iceman, where there is enough material for thousands of tests. Much as I would like to have all of the data NOW, I am content to just tap my foot impatiently. But wouldn’t it be nice to get some good DNA from a Flores Hobbit…! There are plenty of bog-men and others we can be working on. I’d like to see them drill the teeth of the skeleton dug up last year near Stonehenge, supposedly he was from Switzerland, if the bone analysis was accurate. Be very interesting to see his DNA results.

    This is a rich time to be living in!

  3. Anthony

    Obviously, this sort of thing is harder than spitting into a vial, but might it make sense for a company like 23andMe to sponsor some of this work in exchange for getting to include the sequenced genomes in its database? Imagine the marketing potential to have such genomes publicly available in formats compatible with lots of other available genomes!


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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