How the Study of Ancient DNA Traces Human Origins
In the early years of his career as a scientist, Svante Pääbo changed the course of his studies from molecular biology to evolutionary genetics – and at the same time the course of the latter scientific field itself. By drying a piece of a calf’s liver to reproduce the mummification process in ancient Egypt, he showed that genetic material could survive in dead tissues. During the following three decades he developed techniques that made it possible to retrieve DNA from extinct animals that are thousands of years old. In 2010, Pääbo and his colleagues reached international fame when they published the first draft version of the Neandertal genome in /Science/. This groundbreaking study also presented evidence that many people today carry parts of the Neandertal genome in their DNA. Early this year, Pääbo’s laboratory published a complete version of the Neandertal genome as well as the first DNA sequences from what is probably a 400,000-year-old ancestor of Neandertals. At Falling Walls, Svante Pääbo will present an overview of what the study of the genomes of extinct forms of humans has taught us about ourselves, and what discoveries may lie ahead.