Few exciting papers about ancient DNA are coming up with samples from both Israel relating to ancient nomad cultures and Russia relating to the Khazars. While we wait on these papers it is worth gain a better understanding of ancient DNA: What is it? When it was first extracted? How many and which samples were studied so far? What are the advances and pitfalls of studying ancient DNA? And what are the future perspectives of this exciting field?
This is exactly why we wrote this review paper, published today at DNA Research.
The term ‘ancient DNA’ (aDNA) is coming of age, with over 1,200 hits in the PubMed database, beginning in the early 1980s with the studies of ‘molecular paleontology’. Rooted in cloning and limited sequencing of DNA from ancient remains during the pre-PCR era, the field has made incredible progress since the introduction of PCR and next-generation sequencing. Over the last decade, aDNA analysis ushered in a new era in genomics and became the method of choice for reconstructing the history of organisms, their biogeography, and migration routes, with applications in evolutionary biology, population genetics, archaeogenetics, paleoepidemiology, and many other areas. This change was brought by development of new strategies for coping with the challenges in studying aDNA due to damage and fragmentation, scarce samples, significant historical gaps, and limited applicability of population genetics methods. In this review, we describe the state-of-the-art achievements in aDNA studies, with particular focus on human evolution and demographic history. We present the current experimental and theoretical procedures for handling and analysing highly degraded aDNA. We also review the challenges in the rapidly growing field of ancient epigenomics. Advancement of aDNA tools and methods signifies a new era in population genetics and evolutionary medicine research.