Recent visit to the University of Copenhagen yields insights on ancient genomic analysis methods

By Dr. Fatimah L.C. Jackson
       

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 During the last week of September, a team of researchers from Howard University spent four days visiting the Centre for Geo-Genetics at the University of Copenhagen’s National Museum of Natural History.  On the team were Drs. Michael Campbell, Latifa Jackson, and Fatimah Jackson, all of Howard University. 
          This Centre is a world-class multidisciplinary center of excellence in ancient DNA research. Their facilities were opened in 2012. and they were built to comply or surpass the stringent requirements for working with ancient DNA. The labs are separated into several smaller rooms to facilitate cleaning and to allow several people to work at once. The Howard University team had several objectives for visiting colleagues at the Centre but foremost among these was to try to replicate the Centre’s methods of ancient DNA extraction, library development, and sequencing and bring this technology to Howard University. 
          At the Centre there is a strict isolation of all work related to human DNA. In this area pictured, there are two separate extraction rooms with laminar airflow benches and two small PCR setup rooms form the core. Separate from these a similar setup exists for working with non-human material, mainly other mammals, soil and ice. At Howard University we are not only working on ancient DNA derived from human bone and teeth but from grave soil as well. Each of these labs at the Centre have a special room where researchers must put on full body suits and other protective clothing required prior to extracting the ancient DNA . A positive air-pressure gradient is applied with highest pressure in the extraction rooms. The Centre also hosts a suite of laboratories in which modern DNA can be extracted, and where DNA can be analyzed post-PCR. Their laboratories also contain standard molecular biology equipment for the sequencing of these ancient materials. We hope to replicate these facilities here at Howard University so that we can become one of the few institutions in the United States and the only HBCU with the capacity to reveal our ancestors’ genetic history and biology.  ****