Ancient Human DNA: Phylogenetic Applications


Ever since deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) was first extracted from the remains of long‐dead organisms in the 1980s, researchers have been interested in the investigation of ancient human DNA. Such studies of DNA extracted from ancient human remains attempt to shed light on the genetic makeup of archaic and extinct, anatomically modern human populations, as well as on the relationships between these individuals and modern humans. These studies have long been limited by several factors, including the contamination of ancient samples with modern human DNA, and the limited accessibility of nuclear DNA from ancient human remains. However, recent innovations in DNA sequencing technology have lead to a dramatic increase in DNA sequence data available from archaic or extinct human populations and to unexpected new insights into human evolution.

Key Concepts:

  • The study of ancient human DNA is complicated by potential contamination with modern human DNA.

  • Studies on ancient human DNA have long been limited by the availability of suitable DNA sequencing technologies.

  • The development of new high‐throughput sequencing technologies has revolutionised the study of ancient human DNA.

  • The latest genetic analyses of human evolution have provided increasingly more detailed insights into the origin and development of our own species.

  • Genetic data now also allow for the study of coevolution of humans and their pathogens.

Keywords: evolution; migration; Neanderthals; Denisovans; ancient DNA; human populations

Figure 1.

Phylogenetic relationships between different human groups (modified after Prüfer et al., ). Dashed purple lines indicate gene flow. Gene flow from Denisovans into Asians may be due to secondary transfer from Oceanians into Asians (Prüfer et al., ).



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Further Reading

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Knapp, Michael, and Hofreiter, Michael(May 2014) Ancient Human DNA: Phylogenetic Applications. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0005143.pub3]