Davide Faggionato was awarded a Leakey Foundation research grant during our spring 2015 cycle for his project entitled “Molecular and functional analysis of vision in three hominin species.”
Hominin paleogenomics, the study of genomes retrieved from fossil hominin remains, has revolutionized the way we study human evolution. For the first time, we can sample DNA from archaic humans deceased tens of thousands of years ago and decipher their genetic code, the instructions inscribed in their chromosomes. Using this information we are now able to reconstruct virtually every gene in the genome of a Neanderthal or archaic human and test its function. By comparing the function of reconstructed genes to our modern version of the same gene, we can learn about the genetic differences between us and them: What do we have in common with early hominids, what made us special, or what made them unique. Reconstruction of genes from extinct species allows an unprecedented insight into how individuals behaved and perceived the world, what diseases might have affected them, and maybe even unveil differences in their brain chemistry.
Davide Faggionato looking at some human DNA fragments to clone for the project.
In this project founded by the Leakey Foundation, I will study the genes responsible for vision and light perception. I will analyze their sequence and, if it is different from modern humans, I will “resurrect” the ancient genes in the laboratory and test their function. With this research I try to answer the profound questions: How did a Neanderthal or an archaic human observe their world? Did they perceive their surroundings like us or in a different way?
To accomplish these research objectives I will develop bioinformatics and molecular tools that will allow the exploration of virtually all genes in human paleogenomes. Future use of this methodology in combination with paleontological data has the potential to revolutionize the understanding of our origins and those of our cousins, the Neanderthals.
I’d be happy to start a conversation with the followers of the Leakey Foundation and the readers of this blog. If you have any questions please leave a comment beneath this post, I will reply to your comments in future updates on this project. My Twitter account is @MonoAphesis
Davide Faggionato: I am reading the article on ancient DNA from the popular science magazine “The Scientist.”