Ancient DNA analysis

The realisation in the 1980s that DNA is sometimes preserved in very ancient biological specimens opened up a new field of research within evolutionary biology. 

Ancient DNA can be seen as a time machine that opens up a window to the past, enabling us to trace molecular evolutionary processes through time and space.

What questions can ancient DNA answer?

Although the questions that can be answered by studying ancient DNA are limited by the degree of DNA preservation, it can be a very important and powerful source of information.

For example, it allows us to:

  • compare the genetic diversity found in a modern population to that of an ancient population
  • observe how species or populations react and respond to changes in their environment

Ancient DNA analysis is being increasingly incorporated into research addressing questions relating to:

  • past population dynamics
  • phylogeography
  • phylogeny
  • palaeoenvironmental reconstructions
  • conservation genetics

What is ancient DNA?

Ancient DNA can be described as any DNA extracted from ancient biological specimens, such as archaeological bones, teeth or other tissue.  

Ancient DNA can derive from a wide spectrum of sources, including:

  • animal and plant remains
  • ice and permafrost cores
  • marine sediments