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Genetic Analysis on Human Remains

Zoë’s presentation is regarding her senior thesis project. A particularly controversial aspect of genetic analysis on human remains from archaeological contexts is that such research is inherently destructive. Harney et al. (2020) reports a new minimally-destructive method for sample processing which extracts DNA directly from the surface of tooth roots. However, since the Harney “Dip Method” relies on harnessing DNA from the layer of the tooth most exposed to environmental elements, there is a high chance of contaminant DNA in the extract, which decreases the desired complexity and endogenous content of the resultant library. The purpose of Zoë’s thesis project is to discern if including an additional step - a lysis buffer exchange prior to overnight incubation - to the “Dip Method” could potentially optimize the protocol by decreasing surface contamination in the extract. Results from this experiment would increase the efficacy of paleogenetic research, especially for culturally sensitive samples in contexts where destructive analysis is a concern. The necessary destruction of human remains in most paleogenomic laboratory protocols is particularly problematic in indigenous cultural contexts where this practice is often perceived as a desecration of ancestral remains. Improving current protocols to make them less destructive could foster collaboration and have a positive impact on the intersection between these communities and paleogenomic research. By modifying traditional western scientific procedures to be more culturally and ethically conscious, this research will be able to better serve the interest of multiple and diverse communities.

Zoë Shmidt is a fourth-year transfer student working towards an anthropology major and a biology minor. She has chosen to focus on biological/molecular anthropology. Zoë is currently working as a lab technician within the UCSC Paleogenomics Lab to complete her thesis project and recently concluded an internship with the UCSC Genomics Institute as an educational writer on the Genome Browser team. Primarily interested in genetics, she aspires to one day complete an MD or DO program and work as a physician specializing in integrative and preventative healthcare with an emphasis on genome-specific care. She hopes her background in anthropology will allow her to take a holistic approach within her medical practice and effectively serve individuals from multiple, diverse communities. She is also an artist with a passion for painting, calligraphy, and creative writing.

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