Short-term Visitor

Visions of Neanderkin: comparing ancient and modern genomes through art and narrative

PI(s): Lynn L Fellman (Fellman Studio Inc.)
Start Date: 18-Mar-2013
End Date: 18-Jun-2013
Keywords: human evolution, communication, genomics, population genetics, evolutionary genetics

How did we adapt and survive while our “Neanderkin” — evolutionary ancestors like the Neanderthals and Denisovans — did not? Will we find clues to how we evolved when comparing ancient DNA to contemporary genomes?

This project explores combining visual images, scientific data, and story to show what the new information is telling us about being human. Through art and narrative in three public presentations, regions in archaic and contemporary genomes will be compared for insights into human evolution.

The draft sequence of the Neanderthal genome, published May, 2010, in “Science”, was our first look at larger portions of DNA from our closest evolutionary relatives. But the tantalizing data didn’t have enough coverage or detail to answer the “why us and not them” question.

The story accelerated this past August with advanced technology. A new sequencing method provided precise, high coverage data from 46,000 year-old Denisovan DNA. Equal to high quality sequence data from people alive today, new insights will be emerging soon.

The new science will change our ideas of who we are and how we evolved. Artists have always been involved with similar Ideas about identity and self-perception. So this project also looks at how genomic science intersects with the arts and humanities like no other field of scientific inquiry. It’s one of the most unconventional partnerships and can foster a bridge between domains in profound and unique ways.