Surveying the repair of ancient DNA from bones via high-throughput sequencing

Authors: Nathalie Mouttham, Jennifer Klunk, Melanie Kuch, Ron Fourney, and Hendrik Poinar

BioTechniques, Vol. 59, No. 1, July 2015, pp. 19–25


DNA damage in the form of abasic sites, chemically altered nucleotides, and strand fragmentation is the foremost limitation in obtaining genetic information from many ancient samples. Upon cell death, DNA continues to endure various chemical attacks such as hydrolysis and oxidation, but repair pathways found in vivo no longer operate. By incubating degraded DNA with specific enzyme combinations adopted from these pathways, it is possible to reverse some of the post-mortem nucleic acid damage prior to downstream analyses such as library preparation, targeted enrichment, and high-throughput sequencing. Here, we evaluate the performance of two available repair protocols on previously characterized DNA extracts from four mammoths. Both methods use endonucleases and glycosylases along with a DNA polymerase-ligase combination. PreCR Repair Mix increases the number of molecules converted to sequencing libraries, leading to an increase in endogenous content and a decrease in cytosine-to-thymine transitions due to cytosine deamination. However, the effects of Nelson Repair Mix on repair of DNA damage remain inconclusive.

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Ancient human genomics: the methodology behind reconstructing evolutionary pathways

Authors: Stephanie Marciniak, Jennifer Klunk, Alison Devault, Jacob Enk, Hendrik N. Poinar

Journal of Human Evolution, Vol. 79, February 2015, pp. 21-34; doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2014.11.003


High-throughput sequencing (HTS) has radically altered approaches to human evolutionary research. Recent contributions highlight that HTS is able to reach depths of the human lineage previously thought to be impossible. In this paper, we outline the methodological advances afforded by recent developments in DNA recovery, data output, scalability, speed, and resolution of the current sequencing technology. We review and critically evaluate the ‘DNA pipeline’ for ancient samples: from DNA extraction, to constructing immortalized sequence libraries, to enrichment strategies (e.g., polymerase chain reaction [PCR] and hybridization capture), and finally, to bioinformatic analyses of sequence data. We argue that continued evaluations and improvements to this process are essential to ensure sequence data validity. Also, we highlight the role of contamination and authentication in ancient DNA-HTS, which is particularly relevant to ancient human genomics, since sequencing the genomes of hominins such as Homo erectus and Homo heidelbergensis may soon be within the realm of possibility.

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McMaster aDNA analysis aids in identification of University of Madison-Wisconsin mastodons

As part of the centennial of the Boaz mastodon organized by Carrie Eaton (University of Wisconsin-Madison Geology Museum curator of collections), lab members Emil Karpinski and Jonathan Hughes conducted genetic testing of the Boaz and Anderson Mills proboscidean remains. Their findings suggests both sets of remains belong to mastodons (Mammut americanum), resolving the genetic identification questions first posed in 1915.

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Sequencing the complete genomes of two Siberian woolly mammoths

With an international team of collaborators, we are pleased to report the complete genome sequences of two Siberian woolly mammoths.

Complete Genomes Reveal Signatures of Demographic and Genetic Declines in the Woolly Mammoth

Authors: Eleftheria Palkopoulou, Swapan Mallick, Pontus Skoglund, Jacob Enk, Nadin Rohland, Heng Li, Ayça Omrak, Sergey Vartanyan, Hendrik Poinar, Anders Götherström, David Reich, Love Dalén


The processes leading up to species extinctions are typically characterized by prolonged declines in population size and geographic distribution, followed by a phase in which populations are very small and may be subject to intrinsic threats, including loss of genetic diversity and inbreeding [1]. However, whether such genetic factors have had an impact on species prior to their extinction is unclear [2 and 3]; examining this would require a detailed reconstruction of a species’ demographic history as well as changes in genome-wide diversity leading up to its extinction. Here, we present high-quality complete genome sequences from two woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius). The first mammoth was sequenced at 17.1-fold coverage and dates to ∼4,300 years before present, representing one of the last surviving individuals on Wrangel Island. The second mammoth, sequenced at 11.2-fold coverage, was obtained from an ∼44,800-year-old specimen from the Late Pleistocene population in northeastern Siberia. The demographic trajectories inferred from the two genomes are qualitatively similar and reveal a population bottleneck during the Middle or Early Pleistocene, and a more recent severe decline in the ancestors of the Wrangel mammoth at the end of the last glaciation. A comparison of the two genomes shows that the Wrangel mammoth has a 20% reduction in heterozygosity as well as a 28-fold increase in the fraction of the genome that comprises runs of homozygosity. We conclude that the population on Wrangel Island, which was the last surviving woolly mammoth population, was subject to reduced genetic diversity shortly before it became extinct.

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