A new Research Leader at CPG

We are glad to announce that Dr. Peter Heintzman will join CPG as a Research Leader in the autumn of 2022. Peter joins us from the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø, where he has been working as an Associate Professor for several years. Peter was recently awarded a Wallenberg Academy Fellowship (WAF) to move to Sweden, where he will be emplyed at the Department of Geosciences at Stockholm University. The WAF will allow him to build a research group at CPG comprising several PhD students and postdocs. His research project will be focused on analyzing sedimentary ancient DNA stretching hundreds of thousands of years back in time, with the aim to investigate how Arctic plant and animal communities were affected by past climate change.

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An ERC Advanced Grant

Professor Love Dalén at CPG has been awarded an Advanced Grant (€2.5M) from the European Research Council (ERC). The project (PrimiGenomes) will start in 2023 and aims to develop and implement novel palaeogenomic methods that will enable the study of evolutionary processes across long time-scales. Some of the questions that will be addressed include whether speciation leads to an increased rate of adaptive evolution, to what extent past interglacials caused bottlenecks in Arctic taxa, and how common it has been that extinct species contributed to the genomic make-up of species that still live today. In addition to genome sequencing, the funding from the ERC will be used to hire and train several PhD students and postdocs and to conduct multiple field expeditions to the Arctic.

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CPG is expanding

We are most happy to announce the addition of a new PI at CPG. Tom van der Valk, who recently was hired as a DDLS Fellow at the Swedish Museum of Natural History is joining the Centre. Tom got his PhD in 2019 at Uppsala University, after working on genomics of declining populations, primarily in gorillas. He has previously held a position as Postdoctoral Researcher at CPG and was one of the main authors of the study on the record breaking million-year-old aDNA from mammoths. Most recently he has been working as a bioinformatician for the National Bioinformatics Infrastructure Sweden (NBIS). Tom will, among other things, develop computational methods for analyzing DNA from environmental samples and will work on both ancient and modern DNA from a range of organisms. We wish him a warm welcome!

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A new distinguished professor

The Swedish Research Council has awarded a distinguished professor grant (Rådsprofessur) to Professor Love Dalén at CPG. The grant includes funding for a project aimed at uncovering genomic evolution going back to the Early Pleistocene. The funds will enable new ground-breaking studies of aDNA from several species on an unprecedented time scale, going back a million years in time and beyond. The project will thereby set a new paradigm for palaeogenomic research, with generated data that can help to answer important and unresolved questions in evolutionary biology, regarding issues like adaptive evolution, interspecific hybridisation and demographic impacts from past climate change. The grant will also provide means to expand the research teams at CPG, including several new PhD and postdoc positions.

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A family tree of all rhinos

The genomic status and relationships among rhinoceros species were recently presented in a new study, involving several researchers at CPG. Apart from newly sequenced DNA and previously published data from now living species, DNA was also sequenced from three extinct species; the woolly rhino, Merck ́s rhino and the so-called Siberian unicorn (Elasmotherium sibiricum). After comparing all genomes, a deep split was revealed between the African and Eurasian rhinos, going roughly 16 million years back in time. Another significant discovery was the relatively low levels of genetic diversity detected in all species throughout time. Seemingly, rhinos have adapted to small population sizes, and the low genetic diversity has not led to inbreeding problems or affected their health. However, when comparing modern rhinos with samples from historical and ancient individuals, there is a decreasing diversity seen, which ultimately could contribute to their extinction. The study is published in Open Access in the journal Cell: “Ancient and modern genomes unravel the evolutionary history of the rhinoceros family”. A good popular summary is available in Gizmodo.

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Million-year-old DNA sets new record

A new study led by researchers at CPG and published in Nature has set a new record for ancient DNA. The DNA comes from mammoth teeth found in the Siberian permafrost with an estimated age of over one million years. This makes it by far the oldest DNA ever to be recovered and sequenced. Despite its fragmented state, the DNA reveals new important insights into the evolution of mammoths, including the discovery of a completely new genetic lineage. The record and the exciting results have made headlines worldwide, including coverage on CNN, Reuters, National Geographic and New York Times. Local media coverage has also been intense, and Stockholm University has released the news as a Youtube video.

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New EU-funded project

The Twinning application NEOMATRIX was just granted by the European Commission. NEOMATRIX (Mapping The Neolithic Expansion In The Mediterranean: A Scientific Collective To Promote Archaeogenomics And Evolutionary Biology Research In Turkey) is a joint network project in which the Middle East Technical University (coordinating partner in Turkey), Foundation for Research and Technology – Hellas (Greece), Stockholm University (Sweden), and Université de Paris – CNRS – Institut Jacques Monod (France) participates. Although the subject is the Neolithisation of the Mediterranean area, the support is mainly for travelling, education and collaboration between the four beneficiaries. Further, it is the first major EC funded network that CPG participates in.

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Big money for small organisms

Anders Götherström has been awarded a 50M SEK research grant from the Swedish Research Council. The project, titled “Prehistoric microbes and human interaction”, aims to explore microbiotas dependent upon prehistoric societies and actions. A large amount of ancient DNA shotgun data has already been produced in Stockholm and in other places, but in most cases only the mammalian DNA has been analyzed from these bones and teeth. By analyzing the ancient microbial genomes in the raw data, we will study pathogenic outbreaks, how the pathogens moved within societies and between societies and even between species. In some cases we will also explore the evolution of specific microbes, and how their phenotypes have changed over time.

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Wolves and dogs in the spotlight

The last week has been full of news regarding wolves and dogs. A specimen that Dave Stanton is working on, the 18,000 year old puppy named Dogor, has been making headlines all over the world. This included coverage on BBC News, CNN and Washington Post. In addition, on Wednesday last week, Tatiana Feuerborn published her study on Arctic sledge dogs in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, with the title “Specialized sledge dogs accompanied Inuit dispersal across the North American Arctic“.

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CPG launches new website

This is the launch of the official webpage for the Centre for Palaeogenetics in Stockholm. Here, you will find updates on our publications and other news, as well as information about the researchers working at CPG and the projects they are working on.

We are now only weeks away from moving into our new offices and laboratories! The builders are working almost around the clock to finish the last details. Once everything is ready, CPG will feauture office space for up to 40 researchers, and 250 m2 of completely refurbished laboratories dedicated to work on ancient and extremely degraded DNA.

Also, we are very excited about our MSc course that starts next week, titled “Paleoecology, Genetics and Human Prehistory”. The course will run for 10 weeks, and features several invited world-leading researchers who will give lectures, including Ludovic Orlando, Katerina Duoka, Adrian Lister and Carina Schlebusch.

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