Tag Archives: DNA

Microbes and You

(Note: The following is a news release from the University of Oklahoma)

Norman, Okla.—University of Oklahoma anthropologists are studying the ancient and modern human microbiome and the role it plays in human health and disease.  By applying genomic and proteomic sequencing technologies to ancient human microbiomes, such as coprolites and dental calculus, as well as to contemporary microbiomes in traditional and industrialized societies, OU researchers are advancing the understanding of the evolutionary history of our microbial self and its impact on human health today.

Dr. Christina Warinner

Dr. Christina Warinner

Christina Warinner, professor in the Department of Anthropology, OU College of Arts and Sciences, will present, “The Evolution and Ecology of Our Microbial Self,” during the American Association for the Advancement of Science panel on Evolutionary Biology Impacts on Medicine and Public Health, at 1:30 pm, Sunday, Feb. 14, in the Marriott Marshall Ballroom West, Washington, DC.  Warinner will discuss how major events, such as the invention of agriculture and the advent of industrialization, have affected the human microbiome.

“We don’t have a complete picture of the microbiome,” Warinner said. “OU research indicates human behavior over the past 2000 years has impacted the gut microbiome.  Microbial communities have become disturbed, but before we can improve our health, we have to understand our ancestral microbiome.  We cannot make targeted or informed interventions until we know that.  Ancient samples allow us to directly measure changes in the human microbiome at specific times and places in the past.”

Warinner and colleague, Cecil M. Lewis, Jr., co-direct OU’s Laboratories of Molecular Anthropology and Microbiome Research and the research focused on reconstructing the ancestral human oral and gut microbiome, addressing questions concerning how the relationship between humans and microbes has changed through time and how our microbiomes influence health and disease in diverse populations, both today and in the past.  Warinner and Lewis are leaders in the field of paleogenomics, and the OU laboratories house the largest ancient DNA laboratory in the United States.

Warinner is pioneering the study of ancient human microbiomes, and in 2014 she published the first detailed metagenomics and metaproteomic characterization of the ancient oral microbiome in the journal Nature Genetics.  In 2015, she published a study on the identification of milk proteins in ancient dental calculus and the reconstruction of prehistoric European dairying practices.  In the same year, she was part of an international team that published the first South American hunter-gatherer gut microbiome and identified Treponema as a key missing ancestral microbe in industrialized societies.

Warinner has published 17 peer-reviewed journal articles, 2 books, and 5 book chapters, and she serves on the Editorial Board of Scientific Reports.  Her research earned an Honorable Mention for the Omenn Prize, an annual prize for best article published on evolution, medicine and public health; and her ancient microbiome findings were named among the top 100 scientific discoveries of 2014 by Discover Magazine.

Warinner’s research has been featured in more than 75 news articles, including stories in Science, Cell, Scientific American, The New Scientist, Archaeology Magazine, the LA Times, the Guardian, WIRED UK, MSNBC, FOX News, and CNN, among others.  She has presented before the Royal Society of London and on behalf of the Leakey Foundation, and in 2015 she was invited to participate in a White House microbiome innovation forum sponsored by the Office of Science and Technology Policy.  She has been featured in two documentaries, and her current work on ancient Nepal appears in the award-winning children’s book, Secrets of the Sky Caves.

Warinner was named a U.S. National Academy of Sciences Kavli Fellow in 2014, and she was awarded a TED Fellowship in 2012.  Her TED Talks on ancient dental calculus and the evolution of the human diet have been viewed more than 1.5 million times.  For more information on Warinner’s AAAS presentation on the “Evolution and the Ecology of the Microbial Self,”

Ancient Dental Plaque

A University of Oklahoma scientist is perfecting the art (and by art I mean science) of studying ancient dental plaque. We’ve highlighted Dr. Christina Warinner before when her research gained national recognition. Now she’s featured in a fantastic video produced by Illumina. The company describes itself as, “a leading developer, manufacturer, and marketer of life science tools and integrated systems for large-scale analysis of genetic variation and function.” 

Dr. Warinner likes to say she’s an “archaeologist of the invisible”. She studies the dental plaque from teeth that are thousands of years old. Bacteria covers that dental plaque, from that she’s able to learn all kinds of things about the person who once used that tooth. Where they lived, what they ate, whether they were healthy or not, etc…

This video is an amazing look inside the process.

Camp Quest

Here’s a great chance for you and your child to learn about science and take in the great outdoors this summer. It’s called Camp Quest. The camp focuses on science and caters to the non-religious. Here’s how it’s described on its website, “The purpose of Camp Quest is to provide children of freethinking parents a residential summer camp dedicated to improving the human condition through rational inquiry, critical and creative thinking, scientific method, self-respect, ethics, competency, democracy, free speech, and the separation of religion and government.” 

The kids learn about everything from DNA to biology. They also go canoeing and learn archery. I spent some time at the camp back in my TV days and it looks like a lot of fun. Click here to see that story from 2013.

You can register for the camp here. They’re also looking for adult volunteers. Check out what the president of Camp Quest Oklahoma posted on Facebook about her experience as a volunteer, “I’ve watched these same children blossom from shy, quiet, and immature kids to outspoken and proud young adults. The best part is returning and seeing these kids year after year and seeing how they’ve grown and matured. These kids let me know that they are going to change this world into a better place.

Evolution Explained

I’ve always said evolution is one of those things that you don’t get until you get it. In other words, it can be a difficult to understand until it’s explained the right way and then it’s so simple to understand. The talented folks over at Molecular Life Sciences have created an easy to follow infographic explaining evolution using some of the arguments against it. Here’s one of the many panels…

courtesy: http://molecularlifesciences.tumblr.com

courtesy: http://molecularlifesciences.tumblr.com

Evolution isn’t a belief system. It’s a systematic way to describe how life on Earth has changed over time. I don’t believe in evolution any more than I believe in the Thursday. I understand what it is, how it works, and why it’s the best way to explain the natural world. Major props to Molecular Life Sciences for creating this.

http://molecularlifesciences.tumblr.com/post/75224638930/top-5-misconceptions-about-evolution-a-guide-to

Paleo-Americans Looked a Lot Different

National Geographic has an interesting graphic that shows how the bodies of Paleo-Americans were different than modern day Native Americans. The graphic shows that Paleo-Americans had larger and longer skulls and that the men were taller back in the day than modern Native American men.

Paleo-Americans came to the Americas between 40,000 and 17,000 years ago. How they got here and where they came from is still up for debate. The most widely known theory is that Paleo-Americans walked across the Bering Straight when it was covered in ice or the water was so low it exposed the land underneath it. But Jim Chatters has a different theory. He’s a forensic anthropologist who says that Paleo-Americans came to this part of the world in waves. Chatters thinks the earliest immigrants came across the Bering Straight but that others came from the Pacific Rim. He says the early Americans show traits common in early humans from Australia and Africa. Chatters was the first scientist to investigate the Kennewick Man.

The bones from the 9,500 year old man were found in Kennewick, WA in 1996. There’s been a debate ever since about his relation to modern day Native Americans. The tribes in the Northwest say he’s an ancestor and have asked that all scientific studies be stopped. Chatters thinks he’s not related at all but, instead, comes from a different line of Humans that is now extinct.

There was a recent find in Mexico that may have Chatters changing his mind. The bones of a 12 year old girl were discovered in an underwater cave on the Yucatan Peninsula. Scientists say the girl fell into the cave about 12,000 years ago. Her skeleton is similar to the Kennewick Man and researchers first believed the two were related (not like father/daughter but genetically). DNA taken from the girl’s teeth show she’s related to modern Native Americans.

Of course, like all good science, the definitive answer takes time and until the powers that be decide to allow genetic testing of Kennewick Man we may never know.