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.The Nature piece is referencing a recent paper which may present a substantial progress in ancient DNA retrieval.
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.
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.