Project 7: Tracing the origins of African captives in the slave trade using aDNA

Fellow:  Marcela Sandoval Velasco
Supervision:  Prof. Tom Gilbert and Dr. Hannes Schroeder
Host Institution:  Centre for GeoGenetics, University of Copenhagen
Duration:  3 years – starting from 1 June 2012

The aim of this project is to try to identify the geographic origins of African captives that were brought to the Americas during the transatlantic slave trade. By sequencing DNA, examining genome-wide patterns of genetic variation, and comparing the sequences with those of contemporary African populations, we will try to infer ancestry and population origins of selected individuals excavated from archaeological sites linked to the history of the slave trade.

The use of ancient DNA (aDNA) in the reconstruction of population origins and evolution is becoming increasingly common, as the genome itself provides us with valuable evidence about the past history of populations.

However there are critical challenges. Extraction and analysis of aDNA is an excruciatingly slow and meticulous process challenged by human contamination and damaged DNA. Contemporary reference data to compare biological relationships is also limited. Nevertheless embarking on the journey to overcome these obstacles to achieve meaningful results, could potentially enable us to analyze the genomic variants in the DNA of African captives and also infer accurately their geographic origins.

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