The Champion of Ancient Genomics: Sample Prep

A recent article in Nature News delves into the trends behind the rise of ancient genomics and finds that improvements in sample preparation have been essential to scientists’ success in this area.

As a team that focuses every day on new ways to make sample prep more robust, it was gratifying to see that advances in this section of the genomics workflow are making a real difference in what scientists can accomplish.

The article, “Human evolution: The Neanderthal in the family” from Ewen Callaway, describes the big challenge facing researchers looking to sequence genomes using DNA from fossils: getting enough sample that’s not too degraded to use. A decade ago, this was a major stumbling block. Today, the community has witnessed several papers describing genomic or mitochondrial sequences from a number of hominin fossils, mammoth and mastodon, and recently a horse that may have lived 700,000 years ago.

“Enabling this rush are technological improvements in isolating, sequencing and interpreting the time-ravaged DNA strands in ancient remains such as bones, teeth and hair,” Callaway writes. “Pioneers are obtaining DNA from ever older and more degraded remains, and gleaning insight about long-dead humans and other creatures.”

In the ancient horse project, for instance, scientists found new ways to improve DNA yield from the fossil. By lowering extraction temperature and making other small changes, the team boosted recovery 10-fold.

These sample prep advances are not only making it possible to sequence DNA from ancient remains, but they are also enabling virtually any lab to perform this kind of work, the article says. “New procedures mean that researchers can now reliably obtain DNA from all but the most degraded samples, and then sequence only the portions of a genome that they are interested in,” Callaway reports.

This is exactly the kind of impact that companies like ours hope to have in the genomics field — streamlining and improving the sample prep process to the point that scientists are no longer limited by these protocols. Congratulations to all the researchers and organizations who contributed to these tremendous advances for ancient genome studies!

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