March 27, 2005

Development of new marker systems for ancient DNA research

Last summer, a news story referred to some work on the pigmentation of Ancient Germans. The Ph.D. thesis of the scientist responsible for that work can be found here (in pdf form and in German).

From a cursory reading, it appears that Dr. Schmidt is able to predict with very high confidence whether someone has red hair or UV sensitive skin Type I. With the exception of a single medieval individual who apparently had both, all individuals are believed by her to have had blond or dark hair and non-UV sensitive skin.

I was able to find some data on the prevalence of UV sensitive skin Type I in a sample of modern German children (11.6%), although according to the authors this also included children of predominantly Southern European immigrants. Therefore, the frequency may be higher in ethnic Germans.

It would be interesting to see such phenotypical markers analyzed in other ancient DNA samples from Europe, such as the Basques, the Etruscans, the Iranians, as well as the much anticipated study on ancient Greek DNA.

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