At the University of California, Santa Cruz, Beth Shapiro and Ed Green are trying to understand how populations, species and ecosystems change through time, particularly in response to environmental and other changes in their habitat. They use the latest experimental and computational approaches to analyze genetic information isolated from fossil and archived remains.
Shapiro and Green at the forefront of a relatively new field of study called ancient DNA—the ancient being something of a misnomer because it can refer to DNA samples that are “only” 100 or so years old. What makes the DNA “ancient” is that comes from samples that have degraded in some way. This means that the challenge for people like Shapiro and Green is not just to find samples and extract DNA, but also to differentiate what DNA belongs to the organism itself from DNA from whatever might have colonized it in the years since its death, and then to figure out which parts of the recovered DNA might be damaged. Not to mention figuring out what all of the information means.
“If modern DNA is like a party streamer,” Shapiro says, “what we work with is the equivalent of confetti found in the gutter the day after a parade.” Further complicating the challenge: in some cases the DNA that truly matters to the researchers makes up less than 1% of the DNA that is recovered.
But thanks to new technologies barely a decade old that make it possible to do low-cost, high-volume DNA sequencing, Shapiro and Green can now answer questions about evolution we’ve never been able to answer before
“We thoroughly enjoyed our experience working with the team at Kikim Media. With too little guidance from us, they managed to take a jumble of complex scientific terms and weave them into a stunning and effective product that tells the story of our scientific research. Michael’s approach is both personal and creative; he has both a passion for storytelling and a keen eye for the perfect combination of narration and imagery to convey even complex ideas with clarity. I look forward to our next opportunity to work with Kikim Media!”
-Beth Shapiro, PhD, Associate Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, UC Santa Cruz