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Hendrik Poinar – Principal Investigator

Hendrik Poinar obtained his BS and MS at the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, he went on to do a PhD in evolutionary genetics under Dr. Svante Paabo then at the Ludwig Maximillians Universitat in Munich.

He then completed a postdoc at Oregon State University under Dr. Steve Giovanonni in microbial genetics after which he took a postdoctoral fellowship at the newly formed Max Planck Institute for evolutionary genetics in Leipzig Germany.

Hendrik Poinar is particularly interested in the preservation and extraction of DNA from forensic, archeological and paleontological remains. How can DNA persist in environments past its theoretical “time limit”? Once extracted our group likes to use the gene sequences to address questions of evolution, phylogeny, selection and biogeography.

Melanie Kuch – Research Assistant

After completing my studies in Biology and receiving my Masters degree, I started working at the Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig (Germany), specifically in Svante Pääbo’s Ancient DNA group.

That was also when I met Dr. Hendrik Poinar with whom I worked on a variety of projects. After he was offered a position at the McMaster University and established the McMaster Ancient DNA Centre, I followed him to Canada in 2003.

During the last couple of years I have been involved in different projects dealing with the recovery and analysis of DNA from ancient fossils (e.g. coprolites) and modern samples. This has included the analysis of an 11,700-year-old rodent midden from the Atacama desert, as well as a genetic analysis of paleofeces from three Native Americans in which we determined their mitochondrial DNA haplotype and various components of their diets. I have also been involved in exploring the origins and evolution of HIV.

At present my focus is on measuring genetic change in time-series paleofaecal samples from a number of Holocene packrat middens. I am also involved in a Xenarthran-wide phylogenetic study using both modern and ancient sloth, armadillo, and anteater remains from across the planet.

Melanie Kuch

Melanie Kuch

Research Coordinator

Go to Debi Poinar profile

Debi Poinar

Research Assistant

Debi Poinar – Research Associate

Debi’s research focuses on understanding the origin and evolution of the human immunodeficiency virus, HIV-1, Group M, through the analysis of a collection of over 200 archival blood, serum and tissue samples collected from Africa, Haiti and North America.
This “viral archeology” involves a synthesis of molecular, epidemiological, socioecological and historical approaches. An extensive investigation of archival documents and journals relating to Africa from pre-colonial time to mid-1980 is an integral part of her research as well.

She began this project at the Max Planck Institute of Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, working with the Ancient DNA Group while studying viral behavior and the emergence of HIV-1 in Africa. The human immunodeficiency virus is one of the fastest mutating organisms in the world.
To reconstruct the emergence of this viral pathogen a comprehensive landscape needs to be drawn comprising historical, social and environmental conditions, along with the molecular analysis of “fossil” HIV-1 strains.
Archival viral sequences will provide an in-depth knowledge of the genome in it’s early stage, allowing us, in collaboration with Ken Rosenthal, Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, to target specific epitopes that my aid in vaccine development.

Ana Duggan – Adjunct Assistant Professor

I am trained as a biologist (B.Sc from Memorial University of Newfoundland, 2008 and M.Sc from Queen’s University, 2010) and completed my doctoral studies in evolutionary genetics with Mark Stoneking at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

My interests are broadly encompassed by molecular evolution and population genetics, by the historical inferences we can make from genetic analyses. In the past, I have used phylogenies and phylogeography of modern human populations to infer ancient migrations and population interactions. My current research interests involve using ancient DNA studies to reconstruct the genome of historical pathogens to examine the evolution and epidemiology of disease in ancient human populations.

photo of Ana Duggan

Ana Duggan

B.Sc Hons (Memorial University of Newfoundland), M.Sc (Queen's University), PhD (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology / University of Leipzig)


Sina Baleka

Sina Baleka


Marissa Ledger - Post-Doc

I completed MD training alongside a PhD in Biological Anthropology at the University of Cambridge. My PhD research was in paleoparasitology and focused on applying diverse methods to characterize and understand parasite infections in the Roman Empire. While working in the Ancient Parasites Lab at the University of Cambridge I was more broadly involved in projects identifying parasite infection throughout the human past. 
I am now a Medical Microbiology Resident at McMaster University and am jointly undertaking postdoctoral research through the Clinical Investigator Program. My current work focuses on developing ancient DNA methods to be used in paleoparasitology to better understand the presence, temporal changes, and evolution of human parasites. My research ultimately aims to understand parasite transmission in the past while also using parasites to gain insights into how climate, diet, human-animal interactions, and migration impact parasite infections through time. 
Samantha Price

Samantha Price

PhD Candidate

Sina Baleka – Post-Doc

Throughout most of my research career I have been working on ancient DNA of extinct proboscideans (elephants and their relatives). It started during my master at the University of Mainz, Germany, where I analyzed highly degraded material from extinct European straight-tusked elephants (Palaeoloxodon antiquus) in an attempt to elucidate their phylogenetic position – albeit without a lot of success. I followed up on this project during my PhD at the University of Potsdam, Germany, and worked on several other projects in the field of paleogenetics with a focus on proboscidean (e.g. Mediterranean dwarf elephants and South American gomphotheres). During my first Post-Doc at the University of Iceland I took a short break from proboscideans and worked on whole genomes of White-tailed eagles, looking at population genetics and the interactions between mitochondrial DNA and the W chromosome. Here in Canada, I’m once again focusing on proboscideans in an attempt to get a genus-wide paleogenetic overview of Middle to Late Pleistocene extinct straight-tusked elephants (Palaeoloxodon) to infer their phylogeography and patterns of admixture. These elephant lived in temperate to tropical regions and went extinct more than 30,000 years ago, making DNA recovery highly challenging.

Samantha Price – PhD Candidate

My academic background is in biological anthropology (B.A.H., University of Winnipeg) with a focus on diet and stable isotope analysis in my Masters research (M.A., Trent University). This previous research sparked my interest in the use of a complex and under-utilized material in archaeology, dental calculus, culminating in a Masters thesis on examining the use of dental calculus as a proxy to bone for paleodietary studies using stable isotope analysis.

Dental calculus is mineralized dental plaque, which in life is teeming with microbial inhabitants that play a key role in the health and disease of a person. It can also give information about an individual closer to the time of death than what we may gather from their skeleton. My previous research made it clear to me that the bacteria that have become encased in dental calculus provide a great opportunity to examine the lives of individuals in the past. Therefore, my current research examines the oral microbiome, the community of bacteria that inhabit the mouth, to assess health and disease in the past as well as explore potential pathogens that individuals were exposed to. I am particularly interested in looking at disease and the oral microbiome with a consideration of the syndemic relationship between them. A multitude of factors affect an individual’s experience of disease, including the biological, cultural, social, and ecological. A framework that keeps all of these factors in mind is essential when considering health and disease in the past.

Jessica Hider – PhD Candidate

I completed my Master’s of Science, in molecular anthropology, at the University of Toronto. My research dealt with modern DNA analysis, involving human skin pigmentation.

I have always loved history and biology. As such I study evidence of specific pathogens in pre-Rome and ancient Rome. This work integrates ancient DNA analyses with bioarchaeology and paleopathology. There have only been a few instances where disease has been looked for and also found in Roman remains using aDNA analyses. I plan to complete a large-scale study of southern Italian remains.

I seek to contribute to a better understanding of disease profiles of individuals by age, sex and status in pre-Roman and Roman era Italy. Further, my research will combine paleopathological, archaeological and historical evidence in order to better understand how the Roman conquest may have affected disease in individuals in southern Italy. This includes questions involving how trade, warfare, and migration may have changed disease profiles within and between the pre-Roman and Roman era.

Jessica Hider

Jessica Hider

PhD Candidate

George Long

George Long

PhD Candidate

George Long - PhD Candidate

Originally trained as a biostatistician in my undergrad (B.Sc University of Ottawa, 2018) my background allows me to approach a wide variety of questions from a robust statistical perspective while also understanding the ramifications as a biologist. Previous work involved the detection of key virulence mutations in influenza using machine learning and laying the groundwork to identify protein-protein interactions involved in rare genetic diseases.

Since my undergrad, I've developed an interest in both characterizing ancient pathogens and metagenome compositions. Current projects include the characterization of an ancient opportunistic pathogen, the potential analysis of pathogens from samples preserved in formaldehyde and studying the variation of a key metabolic product in the microbiome through time. This work has required the streamlining of current bioinformatic methods into quick and easily chained steps while still maintaining their required flexibility.

Dirk Hackenberger - PhD Candidate

I finished my undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph in 2019, with a major in biochemistry and a minor in molecular biology. I'm now pursuing a Ph.D. under the joint supervision of Dr. Hendrik Poinar and Dr. Gerard Wright. 
My project is to develop novel techniques to more efficiently sequence traditionally "difficult" DNA. This includes DNA from ancient contexts, as well as those that are diagnostically relevant for infectious disease diagnosis, such as microbe-associated cell-free DNA.
Zachery Dickson

Zachery Dickson


Zachery Dickson - Post-Doc

I graduated from McMaster's Bachelor of Technology - Biotechnology program in 2015 before venturing out into industry for a couple years. Looking for a challenge, I returned to McMaster as a graduate student!

My collaborations with the lab have focused on bioinformatic methods for identifying and selecting probes for targeted DNA capture.

Ren Manalo - Master's Student

I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto in 2022 with a major in Genome Biology and double minors in Anthropology and Mediaeval Studies. My research interests primarily revolve around plague studies and include molecular paleopathology, evolutionary epidemiology, and the anthropology of infectious disease.

Over the course of my MA in Biological Anthropology at McMaster, I will extract plague DNA from individuals of the Later Roman period in an attempt to address questions surrounding the first plague pandemic. Above all, I hope to promote more interdisciplinary approaches to studies involving ancient DNA and help bridge the subjects of science and history.

Ren Manalo

Ren Manalo

Master's Student

Tess Wilson

Tess Wilson

PhD Candidate

Tess Wilson – PhD Candidate

I completed my undergraduate degree in Forensic Science at Trent University in 2021. At Trent I worked in an Environmental Archaeology laboratory focusing on the optimization of bone sample pre-treatment in preparation for stable isotope analysis.

 I am currently an MSc student in the Biochemistry department working on method development to enhance the extraction and sequencing of RNA viruses in formaldehyde-fixed paraffin-embedded tissue samples. In future, I hope to implement these methods to access the mostly inaccessible wealth of information on ancient pathogens stored in FFPE tissue collections

Natassja Brien – PhD Student

I received two undergraduate degrees from the University of Manitoba, a B.A. (Hons) in Anthropology and a B.Sc. (Hons) in Genetics. As part of an honours thesis project, I studied cis expression quantitative trait loci (cis e-QTLs) in autism spectrum disorder.

Moving to Fredericton and the University of New Brunswick in the fall of 2020, I focused my research efforts on the possibilities of using DNA and DNA analysis to study experiences of stress in past populations, specifically focusing on the glucocorticoid receptor gene NR3C1. I received a Master's of Interdisciplinary Studies, combining the fields of bioarchaeology and genetics in my research.

My PhD research at McMaster is part of a collaboration with Harvard Medical Centre and will focus on characterizing the methylation profiles of several genes related to bone mineral density. I remain interested in measures of stress in past populations and am pursuing next steps from my master's research. 

Natassja Brien

Natassja Brien

PhD Student


Former Members

Marie-Hélène B.-Hardy - Former PhD Student

I completed my master’s degree in Bioanthropology at Université de Montréal. The focus of my research was to identify examples of admixture in Christian cemeteries and understand the context that leads to admixture between individuals of the First Nations and of European ancestry during the two main waves of European colonization in Quebec.  

I am now a PhD student in the department of Anthropology, and I use a multidisciplinary approach combining paleogenetic, paleopathological, and historical information to further understand the impacts of colonialism. I work on questions like how populations reacted to paleo-epidemics of smallpox, and how migration patterns and dynamics between First Nations and Europeans were influenced by the dispersal of this virus during Canada’s colonization. I also hope to better understand the evolution of the smallpox virus and how it was influenced by population’s response to epidemics.

Katherine Eaton – Former PhD Candidate

My educational background is in Anthropology (B.A., University of Alberta, 2013) with training in Bioinformatics (University of Toronto, 2014). These seemingly disparate interests motivate me to pursue humanities-centered questions about disease experience and distribution, using novel molecular techniques and computational methods.

I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology and I study a puzzling and particularly lethal disease: Plague. I work in the McMaster Ancient DNA Centre, where I extract plague DNA from the archaeological remains of its victims. Using this peculiar data, I am exploring how ancient pandemics of plague are connected to modern outbreaks, and what interplay of factors has shaped our relationship with infectious disease throughout human history.

Jennifer Klunk – Former Post-Doc

My educational background is in Chemistry and Anthropology (B.S., B.A., University of Pittsburgh, 2012). My interest in these two subjects led me to the study of ancient DNA, since this field uses chemical techniques to produce results that can be interpreted through an anthropological lens.

I am interested in studying the ancient DNA of infectious diseases, particularly episodes of plague. This area of ancient DNA research fascinates me because there a number of questions that are still unanswered about the plague pandemics, such as the vast difference in virulence between ancient strains of Yersinia pestis and the modern strains of this pathogen. It is important to answer questions such as this because we can generate information that can potentially be applied to the prevention and treatment of modern diseases by studying how infectious diseases change through time.

Tyler Murchie – Former Post-Doc

My academic training is in archaeological science. I’m interested in the application of cross-disciplinary methods—particularly ancient DNA—to archaeological and palaeontological datasets. My doctoral research utilized ancient environmental DNA to better understand ecological change associated with the Pleistocene-Holocene transition in Yukon, Canada. Currently, I’m working on environmental DNA projects in the circumarctic and across North America to evaluate human ecodynamics and ecosystem evolution through time. My other main project is exploring the late survival of horses in North America using ancient environmental DNA. I’m also working on methods projects for improving ancient DNA extraction and exploring pathogenic organisms from archaeological sites globally.

Emil Karpinski – Former PhD Candidate

I finished my undergraduate degree at McMaster University in 2015, graduating out of the Honours Molecular Biology and Genetics Co-op program. Through my program I was afforded many opportunities to develop a comprehensive molecular biology skillset and to work in an assortment of labs on projects related to synthetic biology, microbiomes, and airway inflammation. To complement my scientific education I decided to pursue a minor in anthropology after becoming deeply interested in ancient DNA in my third and fourth year. With some luck I was able to secure a year-long undergraduate research position in Dr. Poinar’s lab to complete my final coop terms and undergraduate thesis.

My undergraduate and master’s theses primarily focus on elucidating the phylogeography of the American mastodon and using what we know about their habitats and the glacial history of the Pleistocene, attempt to explain some of the structure we observe. Additionally, I am interested in examining new ways to extract and enrich for endogenous ancient DNA and to complement our mitochondrial phylogenies with whole genome data.

Madeline Tapson - Former Master's Student

I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto in 2017 with an Honours Bachelor of Science. My interests have always included biology and anthropology, which led me to the ancient DNA lab at McMaster where I plan to explore issues of the human past through the use of molecular biology.

My work at McMaster focuses on the Plague, particularly the Second Pandemic, and how this period of disease was able to persist over its 500-year time span. I am interested in evaluating the mechanisms of plague transmission that allowed for this prolonged period of disease in order to elucidate patterns of plague persistence and reintroduction into human populations.

Ashleigh Porter – Visitor

I’m a PhD student working with Prof. Eddie Holmes and his group at the University of Sydney, Australia. I find the evolution of viruses fascinating, and collaborating with the Poinar group, I am interested in studying the ancient DNA of viruses. In particular, I am interested in understanding the origin, evolution and host interactions of the variola virus (smallpox).
Understanding how pathogens emerge and evolve in the human host is critical for the prevention, control and potential eradication of emerging infectious disease. This requires understanding the factors that allow a pathogen to emerge in a new host, the evolutionary dynamics of emerging pathogens and the nature of host-pathogen adaptions (such as the evolution of pathogen virulence).
Smallpox, a highly contagious and deadly virus, was one of the most devastating diseases in history. By sequencing ancient smallpox genomes, I aim to further understand the origin and emergence of the virus, and elucidate its host interactions through detailed genomic comparisons with modern smallpox strains.

Jacob Enk

Jacob Enk

Former PhD Candidate

Jacob Enk – Former PhD Candidate

“North American Mammoth Phylogeography” is my dissertation title. I’m interested in using mammoth gene and genome sequences to track long-term breeding patterns in their populations, especially between ecotypes.

My background is in Anthropology (B.A. Indiana University; M.S. University of Utah), having worked with Drs. Rika Kaestle (ancient DNA), Travis Pickering (taphonomy), Dennis O’Rourke (ancient DNA), Jack Broughton (zooarchaeology), and Alan Rogers (population genetics).

Kirsten Bos – Former PhD Candidate

I am a recent graduate of the PhD programme in the department of Anthropology. My research interests primarily include skeletal pathology and infectious disease in past human populations.

In 2001 I received my BSc with distinction from the University of Guelph with a specialization in Honours Bio-Medical Science. Later that year I enrolled in a pre-Master’s program in Physical Anthropology at the University of Manitoba.

I began graduate studies at McMaster University in 2002, working under Dr. Shelley Saunders at the Master’s level. Through my research I had the privilege of working with Dr. Luca Bondioli at the Pigorini Museum of Palaeoanthropology in Rome, Italy. In 2005 I received a Master’s degree in skeletal biology with an emphasis in palaeopathology and demography.

Currently I am conducting molecular work with human skeletal and dental material from the East Smithfield Black Death Cemetery in London, England to isolate and study the strain of Yersinia pestis implicated in the Black Death. Advances in molecular capture techniques have permitted us to both confirm the authenticity of ancient Y. pestissequences from victims of the Black Death and to reconstruct 99% of the ancient pathogen’s genome.

Throughout my years as a graduate student I am grateful to have received government funding from two SSHRC Canada Graduate Scholarships, one at the Master’s level and another at the PhD level.

At present, I have a SSHRC-funded postdoctoral fellowship and will be working at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, Laboratoire de Paléoanthropologie in Bordeaux, France. I’ll be working under Olivier Dutour in collaboration with Johannes Krause and Hendrik Poinar.

Kirsten Bos

Kirsten Bos

Former PhD Candidate

Matthew Emery – Former PhD Candidate

I first became interested in biological anthropology during my early years as an undergraduate student (B.A., Anthropology) at the University of Western Ontario. Since then my interests have included the use chemical techniques (stable isotope analysis) to answer questions about past human behaviours, such as diet, health, and migration. My M.A. research at McMaster University used stable isotopes to look at the diets and origins of soldiers who lost their lives during the War of 1812’s Battle of Stoney Creek.

My current PhD research incorporates isotopic and ancient DNA (aDNA) techniques to investigate the ancestral affiliations and geographic origins of ancient southern Italians. More specifically, I am interested in using high-throughput sequencing technologies to isolate and reconstruct whole mitochondrial genomes from my sample population, a population that spans the Iron Age through the Roman period in the Italian region of Puglia. Little is known about the individual inhabitants of southern Italy during this time. My project proposes to uncover some of the more nuanced aspects of human behaviour, such as their place of birth (stable isotopes) and geographic ancestry (aDNA). Using these methods I anticipate answering some of these questions: Are the people buried in southern Italy local to the Puglia region, or did they migrate from a geographically distinct area? What was the biogeographic composition of Puglia before the Romans conquered the region in 272 BCE? Were people migrating into Italy from beyond the imperial borders during Rome’s Pax Romana, and onward into the 3rd and 4th centuries CE?

Stephanie Marciniak – Former PhD Candidate

My academic background is in biological anthropology, with a focus on forensic anthropology during my undergraduate (H. B.Sc., University of Toronto at Mississauga) and Masters (M.A., Trent University). My research during this time related to the post-mortem modification of skeletal remains, culminating in a Masters thesis on the identification of saw marks on burned bone.

My current research employs a multi-faceted approach to the investigation of pathogens in Roman antiquity, particularly drawn from contexts where there are no known epidemics or plagues noted in the historical record. I am interested in the integration of ancient DNA alongside archaeological and ancient literary sources as a means to contextualize the relationship between humans, disease and the environment.

Disease is not solely a biological phenomenon; the interplay between social, cultural and ecological factors is significant to the evaluation of health in antiquity. It is critical to identify linkages between health and disease in the past through a framework that not only emphasizes the molecular identification of potential pathogens, but attempts to establish why particular disease patterns existed.

Stephanie Marciniak

Stephanie Marciniak

Former PhD Candidate

Alison Devault – Former PhD Candidate

My background is in biology and archaeology (B.A., Boston University, 2003-2007) and biological anthropology (M.A., McMaster University, 2007-2008). My current thesis research focuses on the evolutionary history of human infectious diseases as studied through the molecular remains of pathogen DNA in archaeological human remains. I am interested in the potential for ancient DNA (aDNA) to provide meaningful anthropological and evolutionary biological insights into past pathogens, beyond species identification. What can aDNA tell us about the biological characteristics of historical epidemics, and can these insights inform our interpretation of historical and archaeological narratives about these epidemics? Studying aDNA helps shape our understanding of current infectious diseases, because a greater knowledge of pathogen evolutionary relationships and trajectories can inform our environmental and pharmaceutical strategies to combat their virulence.

Christine King – Former MSc Candidate

I have been part of the Ancient DNA Centre since 2006, focusing on methods-based research with a variety of applications. My major projects involve the use of DNA barcodes to investigate Beringian paleoecology, and enrichment strategies for aDNA in the era of next-generation sequencing.

I am particularly fascinated with the intersection of aDNA research and forensic science and hope to pursue that in the near future. Currently I am completing a MSc in biology and am a graduate of McMaster’s Honours BSc program in genetics (minor in Anthropology).

Christine King

Christine King

Former MSc Candidate

Jonathan Hughes

Jonathan Hughes

Former MSc Student

Jonathan Hughes – Former MSc Student

I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Leicester, obtaining an MSci in Interdisciplinary Science. After spending a year at McMaster University working with Dr Jonathon Stone investigating the emergence of dimorphisms in snail populations, I came to develop a strong interest in evolutionary biology. For my final year at Leicester I worked with Dr Trude Schwarzacher to investigate two satellite DNA families from Bos taurus, using cytogenetic and bioinformatic approaches to compare the localisation and homology of these satellites against related sequences in sheep and goats.

My research interests are wide ranging within the broad scope of evolutionary biology, but in particular I am focused on molecular and chromosomal evolution. I am currently working on enriching nuclear genes from representatives of all modern and some ancient Xenarthrans to aid in resolving their phylogeny.

Nathalie Mouttham – Former MSc Student

My educational background is in Biopharmaceutical Sciences (B.Sc., University of Ottawa). That degree lead to the opportunity to work as a Forensic DNA Analyst at the RCMP Forensic Laboratories in Ottawa, Canada. During my years there, I met Dr. Ron Fourney (Director of Research), who would in turn introduce me to Dr. Hendrik Poinar.

Forensic extracts and ancient DNA (aDNA) samples share many characteristics: namely, they have been degraded and damaged over time by biological, chemical and physical assaults. My research project is to take analytical techniques that were developed in the field of aDNA and to apply them to forensic samples, in hopes of getting better information than we do currently. These techniques involve repair and long-term stable storage of DNA.

Nathalie Mouttham

Nathalie Mouttham

Former MSc Student

Maria Lembring – Former Post-Doc

I am a molecular biologist with an academic background from Uppsala University, Sweden, where I obtained my PhD in Medical Sciences. During my studies, I particularly enjoyed subjects such as paleontology and anything related to history, evolutionary biology and forensic genetics. My interests led me to train in forensic molecular biology under Prof. Manfred Kayser, Erasmus MC in Rotterdam, and to later pursue my PhD under Prof. Marie Allen in Uppsala, where I combined the fields of ancient DNA and forensic genetics research. In parallel, as a PhD candidate I conducted mtDNA analyses for the Swedish police on commission and these assignments made me particularly interested in improving the conditions for studying compromised samples, such as forensic samples and ancient DNA. DNA damage is a significant challenge both for the study of ancient DNA and in forensic genetics; in keeping with my interests, my work at the McMaster Ancient DNA Centre will focus on methodological developments to improve the quality and quantity of genetic material retrieved from damaged samples.

Régis Debruyne – Former Post-Doc

Régis has been trained as an evolutionary biologist at the French universities of Paris VI and Paris XI until year 1999 when he met prof. Pascal Tassy from the French Museum of Natural History (MNHN, Paris). That’s a first key event in his studies since he turned to his supervisor in master’s degree and PhD thesis for more than four years.
Together they questioned the phylogenetic inter-relationships of the members of the family Elephantidae (Mammalia; Proboscidea) on molecular and morphological grounds. That was done in several intricate steps: for his master, they first worked on theoretical phylogenetics and molecular evidence about the position of the woolly mammoth among the family of the elephants. For his PhD, our purpose rather embraced the systematic status of the forest African elephants and the phylogenetic history of the family Elephantidae.

All those steps involved ancient DNA studies. For elephants, most of his accurate samples actually came from bones in museum collection. As for mammoths, Régis first spent much of my time trying to decipher the real molecular identity of the Lyakhov mammoth (the only complete skeleton specimen of a Siberian mammoth preserved out of Russian Republic and kept in the French Museum); he then turned to a more global survey of molecular diversity in mammoths thanks to a collaboration in the international team gathered by the Cerpolex/Mammuthus organization (led by Bernard Buigues, discoverer of the Jarkov mammoth).

The most recent key event is hismeeting with Prof. Hendrik Poinar at the Second ‘World of elephants’ international congress held at Hot Springs (SD) in September 2005 where they made up the decision to work together on mammoth ancient DNA.
Since May 2006, Régis have started a post-doc position at the McMaster Ancient DNA Center. So far, he has been involved in the DNA extraction and treatment of the greatest DNA collection of mammoths ever, in order to (i) build the phylogeographic history of the woolly mammoth in Siberia and Alaska and (ii) pursue the paleogenomic analysis of the whole nuclear genome of the woolly mammoth.

Régis Debruyne

Régis Debruyne

Former Post-Doc

John B A Okello

John B A Okello

Former Post-Doc

John B A Okello – Former Post-Doc

John is an Evolutionary Geneticist, with a BSc (Major in Biochemistry), MSc in Environmental Sciences (Conservation Genetics) and PhD (Molecular Evolutionary Genetics), trained from Makerere University in Uganda and the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. He has been involved in a number of research projects prior to joining the McMaster Ancient DNA Centre in 2008.

He has worked on elucidating population structure and evolutionary histories of many species, both faunal and floral in Africa. Particularly, He is privileged to be one of the researchers who have helped unravel the evolutionary diversification of a variety of large African mammals including the African elephants, common hippopotamus, buffalos, warthogs and many other bovids while based at Makerere University Institute of Environment and Natural Resources in Uganda, in collaboration with the Department of Biology of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. More recently, he was a Post-Doctoral Fellow for 2 years with the Livestock-Wildlife Diseases: a project with research focus on the molecular evolutionary interplay and control of Foot and Mouth Disease Virus in East Africa.

Here at the McMaster Ancient DNA Centre, John is involved in the Archival HIV Project, a study that attempts to understand the evolutionary origins and early diversification of HIV-1 in the human population. Although the focus of the project involves a rigorous scientific analysis, it also encompasses an understanding of historical, epidemiological and anthropological perspective regarding the pandemics of AIDS.

Carsten Schwarz – Former Research Assistant

After graduating from University of Applied Sciences Ostfriesland in Emden/Germany in 1998 (chemical engineering/biotechnology) I worked at the Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig/Germany where I setup and ran a DNA sequencing service lab. I took the opportunity to join Hendrik Poinar’s McMaster Ancient DNA Centre in 2003, where I worked on various projects with a strong focus on methodological aspects of ancient DNA work. Among these projects were: Characterization and preservation of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA as well as isolation of putative RNA from permafrost preserved fossil remains, enzymatic in-vitro repair of ancient DNA, and improvements of DNA extraction procedures.

Carsten Schwarz

Carsten Schwarz

Former Research Assistant

Priyanka Gogna

Priyanka Gogna

Former Undergraduate Thesis Student

Priyanka Gogna – Former Undergraduate Thesis Student

I am currently completing a B.A. in anthropology at McMaster University, coupled with a minor in biology. The various courses offered at McMaster in infectious diseases, along with Hendrik Poinar’s genetics classes lead me to develop an intense interest in pathogens, and the means by which ancient DNA techniques can elucidate on their origins and spread.

I am currently pursuing a 4th year biology thesis at the lab, working with Chinchorro mummy samples from Chile and Peru. I hope to investigate disease in the ancient population prior to the arrival of Columbus in South America. Specifically, my goal is to extract highly elusive Treponemal DNA from the mummy samples, and add to current knowledge on the origins and spread of syphilis, and related diseases.

Former Visitors and Students

Angela D. Hornsby - University of Nevada, Reno

Michael Klowak - McMaster University

WANTED: Researchers & Students

We are currently looking for Master’s, PhD, and 4th year thesis students to complete projects on the evolution of infectious diseases. We are also looking for researchers with skills in bioinformatics and statistics to aid in short-term research projects in high-throughput sequencing data analysis.

Contact us!