Sequencing Uncovers a 9,000 Mile Walkabout
A lock of hair and the HiSeq 2000 system identify a human migration wave that took more than 3,000 generations and 10,000 years to complete.
Archaeological evidence dates the Aboriginal presence in Australia to ~50,000 years before the present (BP), making them one of the earliest known populations of modern humans outside of Africa. Recognized as Australia's founding population, scientists theorized that the ancestors of today's Aborigines arrived on the continent from a single-wave migration out of Africa into Europe and Asia. However, recent whole-genome studies date the Europe/Asia split to have occurred between 17,000 and 43,000 BP, more than 10,000 years after the earliest Aborigine archeological evidence. Could the founding Australian Aborigine population be the result of an earlier migration wave? The answer was foundi by sequencing a century- old lock of hair with the HiSeq 2000 system1.
Long Forgotten Sample Proves Valuable
Morten Rasmussen, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Eske Willerslev's lab at the University of Copenhagen, stumbled upon the ancient hair sample during a visit to the University of Cambridge. The team had recently experienced success in sequencing DNA from the hair of a Saqqaq individual found in the Greenland ice, uncovering an unknown migration of Old World humans to the New World Arctic2. During a discussion of that research, the Cambridge scientists mentioned they had additional ancient hair samples in their archives, including several 100-year old Aborigine hair segments. "We were intrigued, since the samples were just old enough that we could assume they were likely from Aborigines of unmixed origin," said Dr. Rasmussen.