Cutting edge science

I’m attending my first Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution conference this week, and learning about some terrific research that my colleagues are doing. I just thought I’d share a few of the really neat things I’ve learned today.

–D.Gokhman and colleagues from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Max Plank Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig have developed a technique for identifying methylation patterns in ancient genomes. This is important because methylation (a chemical modification to DNA) often corresponds to silencing (“turning off”) a gene, so it doesn’t make a functional protein. These researchers used this technique to discover differences between human gene expression and Neandertal gene expression. One of the differences they found was in a gene called Hox10, which would (theoretically) cause many of the same physical features (shorter limbs, robust fingers) that we actually DO see in Neandertal skeletons. Neat!!!!

–Speaking of Neandertals, F. Racimo and colleagues from the Archaic Genome Consortium reported the completion of sequencing of a new, high-coverage (50x! That’s a lot!) Neandertal genome, as well as 2 additional Neandertal exomes (an exome is the part of the genome that actually gets transcribed into mRNA). I’ll write a longer post on their findings from comparing human, Neandertal, and Denisovan genomes soon…too much to cover here!

–A.H Freedman’s talk on dog evolution was packed. By comparing the complete genomes of several dog, wolf, and jackal species, he and his colleagues discovered that during their evolution not only did dogs undergo a bottleneck (reduction in population size), wolves did too. He found that it was difficult to determine between different proposed origin places for dog domestication based on these data. Hopefully more data will resolve this!

This is only a sampling of the many great talks I went to. More great research to hear about tomorrow! For the rest of the evening, I’ll be presenting on my own work 🙂


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