Woolly mammoth on verge of resurrection

Woolly mammoth on verge of resurrection, scientists reveal. And they are apparently quite serious about this. (!) From the Guardian:

The woolly mammoth vanished from the Earth 4,000 years ago, but now scientists say they are on the brink of resurrecting the ancient beast in a revised form, through an ambitious feat of genetic engineering.

Speaking ahead of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston this week, the scientist leading the “de-extinction” effort said the Harvard team is just two years away from creating a hybrid embryo, in which mammoth traits would be programmed into an Asian elephant.

“Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant-mammoth embryo,” said Prof George Church. “Actually, it would be more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits. We’re not there yet, but it could happen in a couple of years.” (…)

I am particulartly interested in this part of the article:

Church, a guest speaker at the meeting, said the mammoth project had two goals: securing an alternative future for the endangered Asian elephant and helping to combat global warming. Woolly mammoths could help prevent tundra permafrost from melting and releasing huge amounts of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

“They keep the tundra from thawing by punching through snow and allowing cold air to come in,” said Church. “In the summer they knock down trees and help the grass grow.” [continue]

Cold tolerance among Inuit may come from extinct human relatives

Did you see this? From the NYT: Cold tolerance among Inuit may come from extinct human relatives.

Inuit who live in Greenland experience average temperatures below freezing for at least half of the year. For those who live in the north, subzero temperatures are normal during the coldest months.

Given these frigid conditions, anthropologists have wondered for decades whether the Inuit in Greenland and other parts of the Arctic have unique biological adaptations that help them tolerate the extreme cold.

A new study, published on Wednesday in Molecular Biology and Evolution, identifies gene variants in Inuit who live in Greenland, which may help them adapt to the cold by promoting heat-generating body fat. These variants possibly originated in the Denisovans, a group of archaic humans who, along with Neanderthals, diverged from modern humans about half a million years ago. [continue]

Ancient DNA reveals how Europeans developed light skin and lactose tolerance

From The Conversation: Ancient DNA reveals how Europeans developed light skin and lactose tolerance.

Food intolerance is often dismissed as a modern invention and a “first-world problem”. However, a study analysing the genomes of 101 Bronze-Age Eurasians reveals that around 90% were lactose intolerant.

The research also sheds light on how modern Europeans came to look the way they do – and that these various traits may originate in different ancient populations. Blue eyes, it suggests, could come from hunter gatherers in Mesolithic Europe (10,000 to 5,000 BC), while other characteristics arrived later with newcomers from the East. [continue]

Regenerating a mammoth for $10 million

From the New York Times: Regenerating a Mammoth for $10 Million.

Scientists are talking for the first time about the old idea of resurrecting extinct species as if this staple of science fiction is a realistic possibility, saying that a living mammoth could perhaps be regenerated for as little as $10 million.

The same technology could be applied to any other extinct species from which one can obtain hair, horn, hooves, fur or feathers, and which went extinct within the last 60,000 years, the effective age limit for DNA. [continue]

Phoenicians left deep genetic mark, study shows

From the New York Times: Phoenicians Left Deep Genetic Mark, Study Shows.

Scientists reported Thursday that as many as 1 in 17 men living today on the coasts of North Africa and southern Europe may have a Phoenician direct male-line ancestor.

These men were found to retain identifiable genetic signatures from the nearly 1,000 years the Phoenicians were a dominant seafaring commercial power in the Mediterranean basin, until their conquest by Rome in the 2nd century B.C. [continue].

Egyptian mummies yield earliest evidence of malaria

From discovery.com: Egyptian Mummies Yield Earliest Evidence of Malaria.

Two Egyptian mummies who died more than 3,500 years ago have provided clear evidence for the earliest known cases of malaria, according to a study presented this week in Naples at an international conference on ancient DNA.

Pathologist Andreas Nerlich and colleagues at the Academic Teaching Hospital München-Bogenhausen in Munich, Germany, studied 91 bone tissue samples from ancient Egyptian mummies and skeletons dating from 3500 to 500 B.C.

Using special techniques from molecular biology, such as DNA amplification and gene sequencing, the researchers identified ancient DNA for the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum in tissues from two mummies.

"We now know for sure that malaria was endemic in ancient Egypt. This was only been speculated on the basis reports by [the 5th century B.C.Greek historian] Herodotus and some [continue]

‘Viking mouse’ invasion tracked

From the BBC: ‘Viking mouse’ invasion tracked.

Scientists say that studying the genes of mice will reveal new information about patterns of human migration.

They say the rodents have often been fellow travellers when populations set off in search of new places to live — and the details can be recovered.

A paper published in a Royal Society journal analyses the genetic make-up of house mice from more than 100 locations across the UK.

It shows that one distinct strain most probably arrived with the Vikings. [continue]

Polygamy left its mark on the human genome

From New Scientist: Polygamy left its mark on the human genome.

Throughout human history, relatively few men seem to have had a greater input into the gene pool than the rest, suggests a study of variations in DNA.

Tens of thousands of years of polygamy has left a mark on our genomes that is a signature that small numbers of males must have mated with lots of females.

Over time, such a pattern will spawn more genetic differences on the X chromosome than other chromosomes. This is because women have two copies of the X, while men only one. In other words, the diversity arises because some men don’t get to pass on their genes, while most women do. [continue]

Humans in North America 14,300 years ago

From Boston.com: DNA indicates humans in N. America 14,300 years ago.

…a few years ago, University of Oregon archaeologist Dennis Jenkins and his students started digging where no one had dug before. What the team discovered in an alcove used as a latrine and trash dump has elevated the caves to the site of the oldest radiocarbon dated human remains in North America.

Coprolites — ancient feces — were found to contain human DNA linked directly to modern-day Native Americans with Asian roots and radiocarbon dated to 14,300 years ago. That’s 1,000 years before the oldest stone points of the Clovis culture, which for much of the 20th century was believed to represent the first people in North America. [continue]

City uses DNA to fight dog poop

Wow, it’s not even an Onion article, nor is this April 1st. From Reuters: City uses DNA to fight dog poop. (Are they serious? Really?)

An Israeli city is using DNA analysis of dog droppings to reward and punish pet owners.

Under a six-month trial programme launched this week, the city of Petah Tikva, a suburb of Tel Aviv, is asking dog owners to take their animal to a municipal veterinarian, who then swabs its mouth and collects DNA.

The city will use the DNA database it is building to match faeces to a registered dog and identify its owner. [continue]

Sheesh. I’d rather deal with dog poop than Orwellian nonsense. But no matter, because isn’t this a great way to get back at those neighbours one doesn’t like? All one has to do is to steal a little dog poop from the the neighbours’ garbage, and leave that poop in front of the police station. Done!

But of course nobody would ever do that, so the DNA poop-analyis program is foolproof.

(Link found here at Scribal Terror.)

DNA-Based Neanderthal Face Unveiled

From National Geographic: DNA-Based Neanderthal Face Unveiled.

Meet Wilma — named for the redheaded Flintstones character — the first model of a Neanderthal based in part on ancient DNA evidence.

Artists and scientists created Wilma (shown in a photo released yesterday) using analysis of DNA from 43,000-year-old bones that had been cannibalized. Announced in October 2007, the findings had suggested that at least some Neanderthals would have had red hair, pale skin, and possibly freckles. [continue, see photo]

DNA could help identify 200-year-old Stronsay Beast

From The Telegraph: DNA could help identify 200-year-old Stronsay Beast.

A sea "creature" washed up on an island shore two centuries ago could be identified by pioneering DNA techniques.

The animal was dubbed the Stronsay Beast after it was found on the island in Orkney in 1808.

It was once suggested that it was a basking shark, but the claim has been disputed because [continue]

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Uncovering the ultimate family tree

From the BBC: Uncovering the ultimate family tree.

The Lichtenstein Cave is a short drive away from Manfred’s village, deep in the Harz mountains.

This is the spot where Manfred’s relatives, dating back 3,000 years, were buried. The cave remained hidden from view until 1980, and it was only later, in 1993, that archaeologists discovered 40 Bronze Age skeletons.

The 3,000-year-old skeletons were in such good condition that anthropologists at the University of Goettingen managed to extract a sample of DNA. That was then matched to two men living nearby: Uwe Lange, a surveyor, and Manfred Huchthausen, a teacher. The two men have now become local celebrities. [continue]

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The genetic map of Europe

From the New York Times: The Genetic Map of Europe.

Biologists have constructed a genetic map of Europe showing the degree of relatedness between its various populations.

All the populations are quite similar, but the differences are sufficient that it should be possible to devise a forensic test to tell which country in Europe an individual probably comes from, said Manfred Kayser, a geneticist at the Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands. [continue]

How reliable is DNA in identifying suspects?

So I’m catching up on news items, and –oh my gosh! did you see this? From the L.A. Times: How reliable is DNA in identifying suspects?.

State crime lab analyst Kathryn Troyer was running tests on Arizona’s DNA database when she stumbled across two felons with remarkably similar genetic profiles.

The men matched at nine of the 13 locations on chromosomes, or loci, commonly used to distinguish people.

The FBI estimated the odds of unrelated people sharing those genetic markers to be as remote as 1 in 113 billion. But the mug shots of the two felons suggested that they were not related: One was black, the other white.

In the years after her 2001 discovery, Troyer found dozens of similar matches — each seeming to defy impossible odds.

As word spread, these findings by a little-known lab worker raised questions about the accuracy of the FBI’s DNA statistics and ignited a legal fight over whether the nation’s genetic databases ought to be opened to wider scrutiny.

The FBI laboratory, which administers the national DNA database system, tried to stop distribution of Troyer’s results and began an aggressive behind-the-scenes campaign to block similar searches elsewhere, even those ordered by courts, a Times investigation found. [continue]

Adoptees use DNA to find surname

From the Beeb: Adoptees use DNA to find surname.

Male adoptees are using consumer DNA tests to predict the surnames carried by their biological fathers, the BBC has learned.

They are using the fact that men who share a surname sometimes have genetic likenesses too.

By searching DNA databases for other males with genetic markers matching their own, adoptees can check if these men also share a last name.

This can provide the likely surname of an adoptee’s biological father. [continue]

Viking DNA retrieved from 1,000-year-old skeletons

From Authentic Viking DNA Retrieved From 1,000-year-old Skeletons.

Although "Viking" literally means "pirate," recent research has indicated that the Vikings were also traders to the fishmongers of Europe. Stereotypically, these Norsemen are usually pictured wearing a horned helmet but in a new study, Jørgen Dissing and colleagues from the University of Copenhagen, investigated what went under the helmet; the scientists were able to extract authentic DNA from ancient Viking skeletons, avoiding many of the problems of contamination faced by past researchers.

Analysis of DNA from the remains of ancient humans provides valuable insights into such important questions as the origin of genetic diseases, migration patterns of our forefathers and tribal and [continue]

Bacteria-run computer solves math puzzle

From discovery.com: Bacteria-Run Computer Solves Math Puzzle.

A new living computer, bred from E. coli bacteria instead of stamped from silica, has for the first time successfully solved a classic mathematical puzzle known as the Burnt Pancake Problem.

While this bacteria-based computer is more proof of concept than practical, a living computer might one day solve complex mathematical problems faster than silicon supercomputers.

"The computing potential of DNA far exceeds that of any other material," said Karmella Haynes, a researcher at Davidson University and lead study author. "If we figure out how to increase that capacity in a practical manner we will have much more computing power." [continue]

A statistical approach to studying genetic variation promises to shed new light on the history of human migration

From Science Daily: A statistical approach to studying genetic variation promises to shed new light on the history of human migration..

Scientists from the University of Oxford and University College Cork have developed a technique that analyses shared parts of chromosomes across the entire human genome. It can give much finer detail than other methods and makes it possible to delve further back in time and identify smaller genetic contributions.

Application of the method has already turned up such surprising findings as a strong Mongolian contribution to the genes of the Native American Pima people and gene flow from the north of Europe to Eastern Siberia. [continue]

Orkney Islanders have Siberian relatives

From The Telegraph: Orkney Islanders have Siberian relatives.

Orkney Islanders are more closely related to people in Siberia and in Pakistan than those in Africa and the near East, according to a novel method to chart human migrations.

The surprising findings come from a new way to infer ancient human movements from the variation of DNA in people today, conducted by a team from the University of Oxford and University College Cork, which has pioneered a technique that analyses the entire human genetic makeup, or genome.

Although it provides relative genetic contributions of one group to another, rather than timings, it confirms how the first modern humans came out of Africa 50,000 years ago, mostly from a group in southern Africa called the San.

But the subsequent movements around the world, via the near east, central Asia and then Europe, turned up some surprises including a strong similarity between the Sindih, a people who once lived in Pakistan, and Orkney Islanders, or Orcadians.

In turn, the Orcadians are closely related to the people who first colonised Siberia. [continue]

Genetics confirm oral traditions of Druze in Israel

From Science Daily: Genetics Confirm Oral Traditions Of Druze In Israel.

DNA analysis of residents of Druze villages in Israel suggests these ancient religious communities offer a genetic snapshot of the Near East as it was several thousands of years ago.

The Druze harbor a remarkable diversity of mitochondrial DNA types or lineages that appear to have separated from each other many thousands of years ago, according to a new study by multinational team, led by researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology Rappaport School of Medicine.

But instead of dispersing throughout the world after their separation, the full range of lineages can still be found within the small, tightly knit Druze population.

Technion researcher Karl Skorecki noted that the findings are consistent with Druze oral tradition suggesting the adherents came from diverse ancestral lineages "stretching back tens of thousands of years." The Druze represent a "genetic sanctuary" or "living relic" that provides a glimpse of the genetic diversity of the Near East in antiquity, the researchers write in the May 7th issue of the journal PLoS ONE.

But there is a modern twist to their story: [continue]

Iceman’s family found

From the Vancouver Sun: Iceman’s family found.

Sisters Sheila Clark and Pearl Callaghan of Whitehorse clutched each other’s hands and blinked back tears Friday as they talked about their ancestor Kwaday Dan Ts’inchi, better known as Long Ago Person Found.

Eight days ago, 17 aboriginal people from northern B.C., Yukon and Alaska were told that DNA testing has proved they are direct descendants of the iceman.

The body of the young aboriginal man was found in 1999 by three hunters at the foot of a melting glacier in Tatshenshini-Alsek Park, part of the traditional territory of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations. [continue]

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