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Protein's Turn

Ancient proteins may help answer questions about hominins that lived hundreds of thousands of years ago, Nature News reports.

Analysis of ancient DNA has enabled researchers to uncover new hominins and learn more about how they evolved, but DNA has only been able to give partial answers, it notes. That's, it adds, because ancient DNA has largely only been recovered from samples that are less than 100,000 years old and is more commonly isolated from samples found in colder regions where DNA may persist longer.

Nature News says, though, that proteins have been isolated from older samples and could help researchers understand earlier time periods important in hominin evolution, such as when Denisovans and Neanderthals split off from the modern human lineage. But it cautions that paleoproteomics has its limits, including being constrained by what types of proteins are uncovered and grappling with issues of contamination.

"This technique is so interesting and so fascinating and is really getting a lot of attention, especially right now," the University of York's Jessica Hendy tells Nature News. She adds, though, that "[w]e really need to be moving carefully."