Friday, July 15, 2016

The Archaeogenomics Equation

What do you get when you mix archaeology, ecology, wildlife management, and conservation genomics? No, this isn’t a tagline similar to a duck-in-a-bar joke. What you have is an emerging field of studying called conservation archaeogenomics.

At the forefront of this work are Robert Fleischer and Jesús Maldonado, both of the Center for Conservation Genomics (CCG) at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and National Zoo. The purpose of archaeogenomics is to use genomic methods to learn how humans impacted the environment over time, and Fleischer and Maldonado use this information to make recommendations for conservation.

Fleischer said researchers do more than just look at archaeological samples’ genetic data in their work. There’s a comparison process. Archaeological information is compared to data from paleontological specimens, that can be more than 500 years old, as well as to genomic information from modern or museum specimens.

However, when it comes to extracting ancient DNA found in archaeological, paleontological and even museum samples, Fleischer said they can run into problems. Ancient DNA (aDNA) is often degraded, averaging only a couple hundred base pairs, rather than the tens of thousands of base pairs that you would find in a modern sample. And although museum specimens are far younger than archaeological or even paleontological samples, without proper preservation DNA degradation happens quickly. In both modern and older specimens, scientists also routinely find “extraneous DNA” from the surrounding environment contaminating their samples. However, that issue becomes more of a problem when aDNA is already far degraded.

“(Working with) modern DNA helps us develop the tools and the markers we’re going to use to screen for the ancient samples,” Maldonado said.

And while modern samples may have the best DNA, Maldonado describes the collections at the Smithsonian as a “gold mine,” saying it’s nearly impossible to replicate some of those specimens in this day and age.

“The collections have such importance in terms of materials we can obtain for our research,” he said.

“In many cases the species don’t exist anymore,” Fleischer added.

This is why it is important to integrate their work across collections, utilizing the specimens’ DNA.

“To be able to do DNA analyses of old material … that gives us a window to the past that we never had,” Fleischer said. “... So (DNA is) very useful from the standpoint of looking at changes in variability, changes in population size over time. But it’s also useful for looking at situations where you don’t know what species existed at a site in the past.”

aDNA work isn’t the only thing done in Fleischer and Maldonado’s lab at the CCG. They also work in non-invasive DNA techniques, disease diagnosis, genetic management of wild and captive populations and more.

“If you team up with the experts that have compelling questions in their field, we can help with applying the tools that we know can answer some of those questions,” Maldonado said. “... We’re promoting more collaborative work so it can be applied to conservation.”

Courtney A. Hofman, Torben C. Rick, Robert C. Fleischer, Jesús E. Maldonado (2015, September). Conservation archaeogenomics: ancient DNA and biodiversity in the Anthropocene. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Volume 30, Issue 9, p540–549. DOI:


Ancient DNA (aDNA)
DNA extracted from nonliving sources, including teeth, bones, toepads, desiccated tissue, seeds, plant remains, and paleofeces.
Using material from archaeological sites to get genomic information.


  1. Hi....
    They proposed an equation to predict how the allele frequencies change by chance through generations, thus explaining the allele fixation or loss in a.
    You are also read more Business Loan Online Apply

  2. Hello! Each scholarship essay writer on our team provides original work, hand-crafted to your specific instructions. We understand that in order to receive a strong grade, you need a paper writer who pays attention to every detail given in your assignment instructions, whenever you ask “write my essay for me.” Covering every instruction is key to achieving the highest possible grade.

  3. And last, but certainly not least, every student is concerned that, once he/she will order an essay online, he/she cannot be sure that the paper will be 100 percent original, particularly when you contact an essay writing service for the very first time.

  4. announced an augmented reality feature that will allow its customers to virtually virtual try-on clothes

  5. The research at hand excites me because it is interdisciplinary and its results have relevance for conservation practices. This goes to show what can be achieved through collaborative efforts of different scientific disciplines in the face of complex environmental challenges.

    Sites such as Monportlaser Coupon Codes will keep people abreast with the latest findings in conservation science and facilitate their participation in biodiversity preservation activities that we undertake to save our planet. Additionally, I am eagerly waiting for more information about interesting finds and suggestions from the field of conservation archaeogenomics.