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Oxford Team Builds Algorithm That Uses Ancient DNA to Track Human Mobility

A new computational approach for using large quantities of ancient DNA (aDNA) to track the movements of past human populations is reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week. While aDNA is an increasingly common tool for archeological research, it is typically used to calculate proportions of shared ancestry among individuals or groups to answer specific, regional research questions. Aiming to use aDNA on a larger-scale, a pair of University of Oxford researchers developed an algorithm that uses bulk aDNA to quantify human mobility through time and space. The algorithm, its developers write, derives a spatial probability surface of genetic similarity for each individual from which aDNA is obtained in their respective pasts. This is done by creating an interpolated ancestry field through space and time based on multivariate statistics and Gaussian process regression and then using this field to map the ancient individuals into space according to their genetic profile. The researchers demonstrate the algorithm by applying it to thousands of published genomic samples in the last 10,000 years to trace diachronic mobility patterns in Western Eurasia.