Ancient DNA (aDNA) research, defined as the retrieval and analysis of DNA sequences from various degraded biological materials, has been evolving as a research field for four decades. Through advances in DNA isolation and amplification techniques, sequencing technologies and data analysis pipelines, the field has been revolutionized and transitioned to what we now know as palaeogenomics. DNA extracted from archaeological samples, and museum specimens has proven useful to study species and life on earth from the genomic perspective. It has made it possible to measure changes in genetic diversity through time, test hypotheses about the association of environmental phenomena and genetic changes in natural populations, and to resolve long-standing questions about the evolutionary relationships between species.
This course covers concepts, methods and applications of ancient human and non-human DNA data.
In a combination of interactive lectures and hands-on practical sessions, the course will provide a theoretical overview of molecular biology laboratory techniques for the retrieval of aDNA from ancient samples from different species and an introduction to the bioinformatic pipelines for the analysis of palaeogenomic data. Students will be introduced to the standard bioinformatic methods often used in palaeogenomic projects for the analysis of aDNA data. We will also review the history and developments of the field to understand how it came to be what it is today, and consider and discuss the practical problems of ancient DNA recovery, the theoretical problems associated with the interpretation of palaeogenomic data, and the ethical implications embedded in this type of research.
At the end of the course, students will have gained a general understanding of common key methods and tools used in palaeogenomics projects: from the basics in the field to the interpretation of the results, as well as ethical and responsibility aspects and implications of aDNA research.