Lactase persistence and the early Cultural History of Europe  
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Kings ManorThe Centre for Ancient DNA and Evolution has been the pioneer behind the recovery and analysis of aDNA from sediments and other related materials. Part of the larger Biological Institute, the centre consists of a mixture of personnel whose skills encompass both the laboratory skills required for developing pioneering research techniques, and the analytical expertise to analyse the subsequently generated data. Undergoing research projects that are relevant to this proposal include the following:
i) The long term survival and diagenesis of DNA in sediments and ice (c.f. Willerslev et al. Science, 2004, 306, 1561; Willerslev et al. Science 2007 317, 111, Haile et al. MBE 24, 982)
ii) The targeting of new substrates for DNA analyses (c.f. Gilbert et al. Curr Biol 2004 14, R463; Gilbert et al. Science in press)
iii) The adaption of new high throughput DNA sequencing technologies to aDNA studies (c.f. Gilbert et al. Nucl Acids Res, 2007, 35, 1; Binladen et al. PLoS ONE, 2007, 2, e197; Gilbert et al. Science 2007).

ESR9 DNA from pottery and sediment

The presence of DNA on pottery and feature soils will be explored by the ESR at UoC. DNA derived from non-living biological sources has been documented to survive for extended periods in both frozen and temperate soils (Science, 2004, 306, 1561; Science 2007 317, 111; MBE 24, 982). Although the exact mechanisms behind the DNA survival remain unsure, it is hypothesized that the DNA is stabilized through binding to soil particles. If this is the case then it is plausible that DNA derived from milk and other foodstuffs may be preserved in archaeological pottery. The project will involve several related analyses in order to provide an exciting and productive research project. Initially we will use ethnographic pottery samples (used to store dairy products) to optimize DNA extraction techniques. The ESR will compare conventional soil DNA extraction methods (see references above) and a promising new method developed to reverse the putative DNA-clay binding. Using the control samples plus quantitative real-time PCR assays, we will further document its efficiency in comparison to the standard methods. Once the method is fully optimized we will proceed to investigate archaeological pottery samples (ESR2) that are identified as promising from lipid and protein studies (ESR7 & ESR8). The DNA extracts will be PCR amplified using specific markers for mammalian mitochondrial DNA to enable us to identify which domesticate species the milk in the pots was derived from. Furthermore, should DNA preservation allow it, we will proceed to targeted specific nuDNA assays in order to resolve more detailed questions about the source, such as what subspecies the sources are, whether at they source time point they already carried modern genetic markers related milk production and so on. We will also examine the DNA extracted from the pots for the presence of microorganisms involved in milk fermentation (e.g. lactobacilli). This will be achieved using initial generic PCR assays designed to target likely candidate groups of bacteria, followed by subsequent adoption of more species specific assays. Where possible we will test the approach on feature soils and middens. This project will form a cluster with ESR7 and ESR8, will be guided by ER1 , (ESR1 & ESR2 ) reporting data to ESR12 and ER2.


Tom GilbertDr M Thomas P Gilbert Associate Professor, Dr Gilbert specialises in the use of novel substrates for genetic analyses in order to expand the horizons of current genetic work, the adoption of newly developed methodological techniques to the field of aDNA, and the application of the above to evolutionary biological, anthropology and archaeological questions.

Prof Eske Willerslev is Professor of Evolutionary Biology and internationally recognized researcher in the fields of aDNA, DNA degradation, and evolutionary biology (see personal profile in Science, 2007, 317, 36-37).


The Copenhagen Ancient DNA facility consists of two dedicated clean laboratories, and a modern fully equipped DNA facility. Furthermore, the has recently been awarded a grant by the Danish Government to set up and run a Roche FLX sequencing facility.


1. Gilbert MTP et al. Whole-Genome shotgun sequencing of mitochondria from ancient hair shafts. Science

2. Willerslev E et al. Ancient Biomolecules from Deep Ice Cores Reveal a Forested Southern Greenland (2007) Science 317:111-114

3. Willerslev E et al. Diverse plant and animal genetic records from Holocene and Pleistocene sediments. (2003) Science 300:791-795