Tag Archives: Ancient DNA

On the origins of smallpox

THE death date of smallpox is clear. After killing more than 300 million people in the twentieth century, it claimed its last victim in 1978; two years later, on 8 May 1980, the World Health Assembly declared that the variola virus, which causes smallpox, had been eradicated. But the origins of this devastating virus are obscure. Now, genetic evidence is starting to uncover when smallpox first started attacking people…

Korean smallpox goddess, late Joseon era (17th-19th Centuries)

This article first appeared in Nature on 23 July 2020. To continue reading, click here (paywall).

 

Europe’s first farmers

EIGHT thousand years ago small bands of seminomadic hunter-gatherers were the only human beings roaming Europe’s lush, green forests. Archaeological digs in caves and elsewhere have turned up evidence of their Mesolithic technology: flint-tipped tools with which they fished, hunted deer and aurochs (a now extinct species of ox), and gathered wild plants. Many had dark hair and blue eyes, recent genetic studies suggest, and the few skeletons unearthed so far indicate that they were quite tall and muscular. Their languages remain mysterious to this day…

First farmer of the Linear Pottery Culture in Neolithic Central Europe. Illustration: Karol Schauer, State Museum of Prehistory in Halle (Saale), Saxony-Anhalt, Germany.

This article first appeared in the July 2020 issue of Scientific American. To continue reading, click here.

The 2010s: what just happened?

THE 2010s were the decade in which we were reminded that science is just a method, like the rhythm method. And just like the rhythm method, it can be more or less rigorously applied, sabotaged, overrated, underrated and ignored. If you don’t treat it with respect, you may not get the optimal result, but that’s not the method’s fault…

Ice mountains on Pluto

This article was first published in The Guardian on 26 December 2019. To continue reading, click here.

 

The drift of humankind

FOR a man who spent his career illuminating the vast, dim migrations of people in prehistory, Luca Cavalli-Sforza’s life was remarkably circular. He first became interested in his major field, genetics, in the house of the geneticist Adriano Buzzati at Belluno, in the hills north of Venice. There he helped to collect thousands of flies in search of mutant Y chromosomes; and though he subsequently travelled the world to study the makeup of its tribes and populations, it was in Belluno that he died…

This article first appeared in The Economist on 13 September 2018. To continue reading, click here.