Ancient DNA by Per Puigdomenech

This year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to Swedish-born researcher Svante Pjabo for his discoveries in DNA analysis of ancient samples. Pääbo’s influence in this field is indisputable. The methods he helped develop have revolutionized entire industries ancient history research and in the evolution of the human species.

Those of us who work in molecular biology will remember Svante Pyabo’s 1985 article in which he analyzed: Egyptian mummy DNA. It seemed like an impossible feat and most of us thought he was very lucky, but it will be difficult to repeat. DNA is certainly a very stable molecule. But dead biological tissue is exposed to the action of many organisms that decompose it and cut the DNA into very small fragments. DNA from mummy tissue is very small, and any contamination, such as DNA from the same researchers studying it, would mask the result. Piabo was solving these problems and studied older specimens.

New technologies, on the one hand, were finding ways to prevent contamination of samples and to efficiently extract small fragments of DNA. On the other hand, DNA amplification techniques such as PCR and DNA sequencing techniques are used, which are done on small fragments and small samples. Their work was also facilitated by the fact that they gradually became available increasingly rich information on the genomes of different speciesand including the human one, which can be analyzed with more effective bioinformatics methods.

All these new methods and the great rigor and persistence have forced us to go further and further back to the time when we could study DNA, and that we’re doing it with fewer and fewer samples. One of the most surprising results of Pääbo’s work has been by obtaining the genome sequences of species related to the human species. We are talking about the remains, which are not 3000 or 4000 years old, like the Egyptian mummies, but 40,000 or 50,000 years old. In 2010, Pääbo published the Neanderthal genome From bone specimens found in various places in Europe. Even more surprising, using DNA traces extracted from a hand bone found in a cave in Siberia, they discovered that it was similar to the Neanderthal genome, but different enough to be considered Neanderthal. whom we now call Denisovans. When the DNA of Neanderthals and Denisovans is compared to humans, fragments of their genomes appear in the genomes of European or Asian populations, indicating that these species and ours coexisted and interacted quite often.

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Ancient DNA testing techniques have gone back in time. For example, in 2016 Paabo’s group analyzed Hominin specimens from Atapuerca more than 400,000 years old. And they are also used to study the remains of other species. There are currently studies to find out what ancient populations ate study of plant or animal remains from the caves where they lived or scraped kitchen utensils. In this way, we can learn what populations living in different parts of the world looked like at different times, what they ate, and how they transformed the species they lived on.

The methods pioneered and developed by Piabo and his team have been used by other groups and particularly by some here who have collaborated with him or used his recipes. Now it is not surprising that they cooperate during excavations looking for remains from ancient times. molecular biologists or bioinformaticians and that their results complement field observations or historical data. Those who, like Svante Piabo, have developed methods for studying the DNA of ancient specimens have opened a window for accurate study. facts about the evolution of our species, other species and our ancient history. He tells us how our genome evolved and how some diseases appeared that could justify winning the Nobel Prize in medicine.

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