January 05, 2011

Researchers to drill hobbit tooth for DNA

Apparently there is an effort to extract DNA from the Flores hominin:
Scientists are planning an attempt to extract DNA from the 'hobbit' Homo floresiensis, the 1-metre-tall extinct distant relative of modern humans that was unearthed in Indonesia, following a study that suggests problems in standard sampling methods in ancient-DNA research could have thwarted previous efforts.

This year, geneticists at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) at the University of Adelaide hope to recover DNA from a roughly 18,000-year-old H. floresiensis tooth, which was excavated in 2009 from the Liang Bua site on the Indonesian island of Flores.

The premolar has been kept cold, and has been handled as little as possible to prevent contamination with modern DNA. But little, if any, of the ancient DNA is likely to have survived the heat and moisture of the tropics, and any that has may be highly fragmented.
The Nature piece is referencing a recent paper which may present a substantial progress in ancient DNA retrieval.

If this is successful, given the shoddy conditions for DNA preservation at the site and its pre-Neolithic age, it will basically open up a whole vista of possibilities for ancient DNA retrieval in the last 10-20 thousand years from pretty much anywhere.

It will also clear up the confusion about the status of the "hobbits": whether they are Homo floresiensis, pre-Homo, or pathological Homo sapiens.

There are so many Upper Paleolithic samples that are unquestionably of our own species, that I am hoping that one of these days researchers will take a look at them as well. Neandertals, Denisovans, "Hobbits" are all interesting, but DNA extraction from iconic early sapiens skulls is something I am much more keen to witness.


Perahu said...

If those efforts are successful we will likely see an increase in archaic hominid admixture in Melanesians.

pconroy said...


I'm with you on wishing for more analysis of early Sapiens skulls for DNA - as that would have immediate relevancy to modern populations.

Ponto said...

Extraction of dna from ancient hominin remains is the way to go. Most of the suppositions made about these long dead hominins is based on their outer skeletal appearance. Having similarities in skeletal features may mean nothing. There are examples of convergent evolution. Why not in unrelated hominins at least in terms of millions of years. Extracting dna from Neanderthals, Denisovans, Cro Magnoids, Mesolithic and Neolithic humans, even revised Copper Age Europeans like Oetzi would better illustrate the evolution in hominins, at least in Europe. It will also kill those mad speculations about ancient humans and hominins based on the haplogroups present in current living populations. It will give an age, at least at the demise date, to the haplogroups found in those ancient humans and hominins. No need to use any sort of aging algorithm to create the ages of haplogroups extrapolated from the current time to the purported time of origin.

Using dna seems to be more scientifically valid than all the guesses and speculations that passes as science in genetics and the evolutionary history of hominins.

terryt said...

I'm presuming you'll keep us abreast of developments. Thanks so much for all your work bringing such items to our notice. And allowing us to make our own comments.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

"we will likely see an increase in archaic hominid admixture in Melanesians."

My guess, FWIW, is that the Hobbits and the Denisovians will be closely related genetically and that the Hobbits will be a closer match to the Melanesian component than the Denisovians were with little independent Denisovian contribution once Hobbit DNA is considered.

terryt said...

"My guess, FWIW, is that the Hobbits and the Denisovians will be closely related genetically"

I'd actually be surprised if that is the case, although the old Movius Line does suggest some ancient connection between the two regions. Hoever that connection is more a matter of both being outside a technological region. I would expect the Hobbits to be more removed from denisova than are Neandethals, presuming regional diversity of H. erectus as in H. sapiens.