Developmental Biology & Stem CellsDNA Methylation and HydroxymethylationTools & Technology

An incursion into the epigenetic landscape of our ancestors

An incursion into the epigenetic landscape of our ancestorsStudying the evolution of epigenetic regulation in humans has proved to be quite difficult due to the lack of ancient material. Together in collaboration, stem cell biologist, Eran Meshorer and computational biologist, Liran Carmel were able to circumvent this problem by analyzing the genomes of two archaic humans, a Neanderthal and a Denisovan, and comparing their results to that of modern-day humans. These hominids lived in Europe and Asia, and split from present-day humans between 555,000 and 765,000 years ago.

Methylated and unmethylated cytosine naturally degrade in different fashions: unmethylated C decays to T and methylated C decays to U. Based on this observation, Meshorer and Carmel were able to reconstruct maps of the ancient DNA methylomes. When they compared the constructed maps to those from modern-day humans, they found a noticeable difference in the HOXD cluster, a key regulator of limb development and a major distinction that appeared during human evolution.

In addition to allowing exploration of the epigenetic landscapes of our own ancestors, this technique provides the ability to study the epigenomes of more extinct species. Their results were recently published in Science and highlighted in both Science and Nature.

Adapted from the original article on Epigenesys by Eliza B.

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Eliza B.

Eliza B.

Eliza was born and raised in Southern California and is currently pursuing her graduate degree in Neuroscience. When she’s not in the lab or class you can find her zipping around town on her motorcycle, rock climbing, or baking cookies.