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Journal of Applied Genetics 44(3), 2003, pp. 269-290

Molecular phylogenetics employing modern and ancient DNA

Carsten M. PUSCH, Martina BROGHAMMER, Nikolaus BLIN


Abstract: Comparative studies of DNA in recent populations and characterisation of ancient hereditary material have contributed very interesting facts to our understanding of evolution of modern mankind. Analysis of DNA homology in related species, assessment of mutations and polymorphisms in various populations and new DNA sequence data from prehistoric finds allowed – via sophisticated DNA extraction techniques, PCR, sequencing and digitalised processing of genetic information – insights into possible roots of Homo sapiens and related species, migration patterns and ancient cultural habits, thus enriching the palaeoanthropological discipline. However, a presentation of this development would not be complete without pointing towards the methodological limitations and manifold presentations burdened with artifacts, data misinterpretation and unjustified conclusions. Presently, this modern field of research is in its consolidation phase and new parameters for quality control and authentication are being implemented to avoid spectacular but unfounded reports. It is expected that most of the problems connected to old biomolecules may be closely related to fossilisation parameters. The future challenge will be the full understanding of the complex and multi-faceted processes underlying diagenesis, including the elucidation of nucleic acid “postmortem damage”.

Key words: ancestors, ancient DNA, biomolecules, evolution, mitochondrion, postmortem damage.

Correspondence: C.M. Pusch, Institute of Anthropology and Human Genetics, Division of Molecular Genetics, Wilhelmstr. 27, D-72074 Tubingen, Germany, e-mail: carsten.pusch@ uni-tuebingen.de

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