Professor and Principal Investigator Eske Willerslev, director of the Centre for GeoGenetics is conducting the world's first genetic mapping of its population over the last 7000 years for Denmark.

Jan. 30, 2013 (TSR) – Denmark has announced an unprecedented project that will genetically map the history of its prehistoric residents using the skeletons of people who lived as far back as 7,000 years ago. The ‘Genomic History of Denmark’ project will be conducted by scientists from Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen’s Natural History Museum, is expected to take at least five years and cost 80 million kroner (EUR 10.72 million), and would be the first of its kind anywhere in the world.

Genetic researchers say the project will make Denmark the first country to catalogue genetic profiles of its prehistoric settlers through to modern inhabitants. DNA and proteins extracted from a Danish collection of archaeological skeletons from the Older Stone Age (5000-3000 BC) will be analysed in order to learn more about the Danish cultural heritage and health history.

The scientists hope the study will help identify early Danes’ genetic profile, where they came from and which diseases they suffered from. They will map the genomes of 100 Ancient Danes and compare them to 1,000 modern Danish genomes taken from anonymous blood samples.  The project will start with the analysis of DNA extracted from the skeletons of hunter-gatherers who lived in Denmark 7,000 years ago, and go on to study samples from the Bronze Age, Iron Age, the Viking Era, through to early Industrial Age.

The genetic material in the ancient bones is expected to be heavily degraded, but the project will use the latest techniques to extract and analysis it.  In 2010 Copenhagen DNA specialists were able to map the entire genome of a 4,000-year-old Greenlander, nicknamed Inuk, from a single tuft of hair, and discovered that his ancestors had originated in Eastern Siberia.

“When we have analysed all the material, new and old, we will, among other things, be able to pinpoint when various diseases arrived in Denmark,” Professor and Principal Investigator Eske Willerslev, director of the Centre for GeoGenetics, told Politiken newspaper. “And we can see if large epidemics, like the plague, helped catalyse a unique and genetically orientated ‘extra resistance’ against, for example, the HIV virus, that we see today in many northern Europeans.”

“The project will likely add new views to Danish and European debates on heritage and national affiliations by re-addressing when and from where our ancestors came. At the same time results will allow Denmark as the first country to understand its genetic disease risk and drug suitability (personal genomics) from historical/evolutionary perspectives. Thus, the data should allow us understanding when and possibly why current highly frequent genetic diseases, like haemochromatosis and cystic fibrosis, and increased HIV resistance became abundant in Denmark,” according to thesis abstract says.

Denmark will become  the first country in the World to map its evolutionary, demographic, and health histories (from the earliest settlers to modern times) using cutting-edge molecular methods and thereby interpret the findings in relation to past environmental changes, and archaeological and cultural historical records.

The researchers are negotiating with the National Museum to be able to use the remains. The project has already received a 36 mill. DKK (EUR 4.8 million) grant from Univ. of Copenhagen’s dedicated 2016-program.

Should this be successful, the Danish proposed education scheme and infrastructure in combination with the proposed project will make University of Copenhagen the only place in the World that creates a truly multidisciplinary national unit for addressing genetics, proteomics, epigenetics, archaeological, legal and philosophical aspects of human demography and health.


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