Museum of London Report on the DNA Analyses of Four Roman Individuals

Authors: Katherine Eaton, Ana T. Duggan, Alison Devault, and Hendrik Poinar


A team consisting of researchers at McMaster University and MYcroarray (Ann Arbor) conducted genetic analysis on four Roman individuals on display at the Museum of London. DNA was extracted from teeth roots from these individuals and enriched for whole mitochondrial genomes, hair and eye colour, and sex. Analysis revealed 3 genetic males and 1 genetic female all containing mitochondrial genomes of Eurasian origin.

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Ancient Origins Article

Shotgun Mitogenomics Provides a Reference Phylogenetic Framework and Timescale for Living Xenarthrans

Authors: Gillian C. Gibb, Fabien L. Condamine, Melanie Kuch, Jacob Enk, Nadia Moraes-Barros, Mariella Superina, Hendrik N. Poinar, and Frédéric Delsuc

Molecular Biology and Evolution, Vol. 33, No. 3, November 2015, pp. 621–642


Xenarthra (armadillos, sloths, and anteaters) constitutes one of the four major clades of placental mammals. Despite their phylogenetic distinctiveness in mammals, a reference phylogeny is still lacking for the 31 described species. Here we used Illumina shotgun sequencing to assemble 33 new complete mitochondrial genomes, establishing Xenarthra as the first major placental clade to be fully sequenced at the species level for mitogenomes. The resulting data set allowed the reconstruction of a robust phylogenetic framework and timescale that are consistent with previous studies conducted at the genus level using nuclear genes. Incorporating the full species diversity of extant xenarthrans points to a number of inconsistencies in xenarthran systematics and species definition. We propose to split armadillos into two distinct families Dasypodidae (dasypodines) and Chlamyphoridae (euphractines, chlamyphorines, and tolypeutines) to better reflect their ancient divergence, estimated around 42 Ma. Species delimitation within long-nosed armadillos (genus Dasypus) appeared more complex than anticipated, with the discovery of a divergent lineage in French Guiana. Diversification analyses showed Xenarthra to be an ancient clade with a constant diversification rate through time with a species turnover driven by high but constant extinction. We also detected a significant negative correlation between speciation rate and past temperature fluctuations with an increase in speciation rate corresponding to the general cooling observed during the last 15 My. Biogeographic reconstructions identified the tropical rainforest biome of Amazonia and the Guiana Shield as the cradle of xenarthran evolutionary history with subsequent dispersions into more open and dry habitats.

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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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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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