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DNA of the Past

Svante Pääbo began his career looking into ancient forensics and DNA a bit in secret, he tells the Guardian, as he didn't want to incur the displeasure of his advisor for conducting "frivolous" studies. To determine whether DNA could be extracted from very old samples, Pääbo bought a piece of liver and cooked it in a laboratory oven for a few days. And he was able to tease out DNA from the overcooked sample.

"When I started this field 25 years ago I thought we might be able to extract DNA from bones of people born a few thousand years ago and learn something about the ancient Egyptians or about the people who brought agriculture into Europe," Pääbo tells the Guardian. "It was beyond my wildest dreams to think we could resurrect genomes that are hundreds of thousands of years old. To have done that, well, it's really cool."

Indeed, Pääbo has moved on from mummies to Neandertals — finding evidence in their genomes that they mixed with the ancestors of non-African modern humans —and to Denisovans, an ancient hominin whose existence has been gleaned from genomic work alone.

"Pääbo has taken his brainchild, the study of ancient DNA, and shown first, that it is a useful adjunct in the study of human origins; but now, and more importantly, he has developed his techniques to a state where they have become the prime means for discovering and defining new human species," the Guardian adds.

The Scan

Foxtail Millet Pangenome, Graph-Based Reference Genome

Researchers in Nature Genetics described their generation of a foxtail millet pangenome, which they say can help in crop trait improvement.

Protein Length Distribution Consistent Across Species

An analysis in Genome Biology compares the lengths of proteins across more than 2,300 species, finding similar length distributions.

Novel Genetic Loci Linked to Insulin Resistance in New Study

A team reports in Nature Genetics that it used glucose challenge test data to home in on candidate genes involved in GLUT4 expression or trafficking.

RNA Editing in Octopuses Seems to Help Acclimation to Shifts in Water Temperature

A paper in Cell reports that octopuses use RNA editing to help them adjust to different water temperatures.