In this special issue of Science, three reviews highlight how recent advances in the field of ancient DNA have significantly advanced our understanding of the evolutionary history of many plants and animals, including our own species. “This special issue examines the changing landscape of how ancient DNA (aDNA) is studied today, including previously untapped sources, technological improvements, and ethical challenges, as well as what we have learned about ourselves thanks to ancient DNA”, write Corinne Simonti and Madeleine. Seale, Associate Editors Science.
In a review, María Ávila-Arcos and colleagues discuss the importance of aDNA in answering non-European regional questions. According to the authors, much of the early research on human aDNA focused on large-scale events, such as continental-scale population migrations or genetic admixture events, with an overrepresentation of studies focused on aDNA. ‘Europe. However, many regional issues, particularly those affecting the Global South, remain underexplored. Reviewing several recent paleogenomic studies that have successfully shed light on local histories and health in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania, particularly that of the indigenous and descendant communities living there, Ávila-Arcos et al. highlight the importance of bringing a regional perspective to aDNA research. They further explore ethical considerations as the field moves toward answering larger-scale questions. When done correctly, larger-scale aDNA surveys can be a powerful tool that can integrate neglected or oppressed communities and uncover past stories that have been lost or erased from history.
Another review, authored by Hernán Burbano and Rafal Gutaker, discusses the use of aDNA from herbarium specimens (historically collected and preserved plant samples) to provide insight into past plant communities. Such information can provide insight into the evolutionary and ecological processes that shape plants over time and could help inform new conservation efforts. In a third review, Beth Shapiro and colleagues explore the state of the art of paleogenomics techniques and discuss key challenges that remain, including technical limitations that hinder the ability to assess ancient DNA “in deep time.” .
– This press release was provided by American Association for the Advancement of Science