Elective: Tracing disease through time - biomolecular paleopathology

aDNAHave humans always suffered from the same diseases?

 

Can we trace the factors contributing to people falling ill?

 

How can this information help us in disease research today?

 

Molecular science is essential, but with a twist: Sequencing a 21st-century genome may be routine by now, but how do you sequence DNA that is centuries or even millennia old? Take infectious diseases that were - and still have the potential to be - pandemics: Roughly 20 years ago, the entire 1918 Spanish flu genome was finally sequenced after decades of research. This makes all the difference to WHO influenza vaccine development, which is a race against time with every newly mutated flu virus that could kill great numbers of people. So far, researchers have had the upper hand, no small thanks to the genomic information we have gained from sequencing flu viruses.

The Spanish flu is only a case in point: Investigating where, when and how diseases first emerged, why people were susceptible to them, why this is the same today or why it has changed, you look back in time to move forward in research.

Putting things into a broader perspective is one of the most important abilities in a researcher, here you can exercise this first-hand.