Seminars – Tracking evolutionary changes with ancient DNA time capsules – 7 April 2016

EVENT : C3BI Seminars

Tracking evolutionary changes with ancient DNA time capsules


Speaker : Ludovic Orlando, from Natural History Museum of Denmark – University of Copenhagen Time : 02:00 pm Starting Date : 07/04/2016     

Location : Retrovirus room – LWOFF (22), Institut Pasteur, Paris


Tracking evolutionary changes with ancient DNA time capsules

The survival of DNA molecules in long-dead fossil material offers a unique opportunity to catch evolution red-handed at the molecular level. This research area emerged in the mid-1980s and was for the first 25 years of its history, limited to the analysis of extremely limited genetic information. Recent technological breakthroughs have opened access to the complete genome sequence of ancient individuals and extinct species, such as the woolly mammoth and Neanderthals, and enhanced the time window for genome sequencing to at least one million years in permafrozen regions and half-a-million years in temperate caves. The information present in ancient genomes has considerably changed our understanding of the recent evolution of our own species, directly revealing patterns of population migration, admixture, selection and extinction. Additionally, the genetic characterization of ancient pathogens has unveiled the etiological agents of massive historical outbreaks, and the evolutionary arm race that progressively transformed such pathogens into massively deadly killers. Ancient DNA also helped track how humans became an evolutionary force, modifying their environment and transforming multiple animal and plant species into domesticates. As a diversity of past plant, bacterial, fungal and animal DNA material are still preserved in sediments and ice cores, ancient DNA can reveal how ancient communities and ecosystems were reshaped in the face of major environmental crises, thereby illuminating our understanding of ecological interactions and extinction processes. Ancient microbiomes, in particular the oral microbial communities, can also be reconstructed, providing a unique opportunity to follow the changes possibly introduced by recent cultural changes in our life-style. Beyond genomes, the profiling of epigenetic landscapes has become feasible and genome-wide nucleosome and methylation maps from past organisms have been reconstructed, paving the way for evaluating the evolutionary role of epigenetic reprogramming. I will present key developments in this recent revolution in ancient DNA research, using examples from my own research.


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