Palaeogenomics of the woolly mammoth: a model to study near-extinction population dynamics

The woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) is one of the most charismatic and publicly recognizable species of the extinct Pleistocene megafauna. Mammoths disappeared after the last glacial or soon thereafter, however a small population survived in the isolation of Wrangel Island (Siberia) for an additional 6,000 year period. I am using molecular techniques coupled with computer simulations to sequence and analyze complete ancient genomes retrieved from samples ranging in age from 60,000 to 4,000 years ago from both mainland Siberia and Wrangel Island. The aim is to study these last mammoths as a model system for conservation hoping to identify a neutral and adaptive genomic footprint of near-extinction population dynamics useful to better understand modern species facing similar threats a the mammoths did at their final demise.

Woolly mammoths. Charles R. Knight, 1912.

Explaining human population history using ancient DNA

Explaining past demographic events that have sculpted the human populations as we know them today is a challenging task. I approach this problem from a population continuity point of view. That is, can we actually prove that two populations inhabiting the same region but separated hundreds or thousands of years are continuous in time? I am developing statistical methods using DNA sequencing data from modern populations together with sequences from ancient populations extracted from human remains in archaeological sites to shed light on these questions.

Proposed routes of migration by early farmers into Europe ~9,000−7000 years ago (Haak et al. 2015).

Genetics of biological invasions

Biological invasions are one of the main threats to global biodiversity, but can be also seen as rapid evolutionary experiments. I am interested in discovering the genetic basis of the evolutionary framework that underlies the successful life history of highly invasive species, such as the mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki). We aim to use G. holbrooki as a model to reconstruct how these species colonize new enviornments, as well as the antropic and evolutionary factors associated to it.

Female of Gambusia holbrooki.