The Antient DNA Boom

Building an Ancient DNA Atlas of Humanity: We know next to nothing about how the people of the world got to be how they are today. The reason for this ignorance is that studies of the DNA of diverse populations have mostly depended on samples taken from present-day people. But now a technological revolution has made it possible to sequence whole genomes from ancient bones, giving us an unanticipated opportunity to understand how humans are changing.  Ancient DNA allows us to go beyond the two-dimensional map of genetic variation based on the coordinates of latitude and longitude. Now we can extend this to a three-dimensional map, adding time. To make construction of this map possible, our lab has focused on large-scale production of ancient DNA data, and is now responsible for more than two-thirds of ancient individuals with genome-scale data. The rapid increase in the number of ancient genomes makes it entirely feasible that the world's combined ancient DNA data set will reach 10,000 ancient genomes within a few years. We are committed to working alongside other ancient DNA laboratories to generate ancient DNA from every archaeological culture from all parts of the world from the last 10,000 years and many within the last 50,000 years.

Making ancient DNA accessible to archaeologists: In 1949, Willard Libby discovered a way to obtain accurate dates for organic material by tracing the decay of Carbon-14. The resulting “Radiocarbon Revolution” provided archaeologists with an accurate timescale for the past that overthrew many previously established ideas. The “Ancient DNA Revolution” is similarly transformative, and we are committed to working in equal partnerships with archaeologists to make genome-wide ancient DNA analysis accessible.

Proving ancient DNA can reveal as much about biology as about history: Ancient DNA has already been a runaway success in changing our views of the past. But so far there has been little progress in shedding light on human biology. The reason is that to understand biology what is required is the ability to track the frequencies of mutations over time. This requires large sample sizes and high-quality data. We are committed to realizing this potential by generating and rapidly releasing large amounts of appropriate data, and developing methods to analyze it to learn about biology.

Leveraging population structure to alleviate disease: A deep understanding of population structure can be useful in addressing disease. We identified 7 mutations that entirely account for the 1.7-fold higher risk for prostate cancer in African Americans compared to European Americans. We are currently focused on the observation that many groups in India have experienced population bottlenecks stronger than in Ashkenazi Jews or Finns. This predicts that there will be many rare recessive diseases in India, which can be elucidated using modern genetic methods.