Written by
Liz Fuller-Wright, Office of Communications
Aug. 3, 2018

Two pygmy populations on the same tropical island. One went extinct tens of thousands of years ago; the other still lives there. Are they related?

It’s a simple question that took years to answer.

As no one has been able to recover DNA from the fossils of Homo floresiensis (nicknamed the “hobbit”), researchers had to create a tool for finding archaic genetic sequences in modern DNA.

Fortunately, scientists in the lab of Joshua Akey, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, have found a clever way to get around the reality that the fossil pygmies’ bones have degraded past the point where DNA can be extracted. His postdoctoral research associate, Serena Tucci, is the first author on a paper about this appearing in tomorrow’s issue of Science – and rumor has it that this will be the cover story.

Our very own Matilda Luk provided a breakthaking illustration that shows the modern pygmies, the cave where the fossils were discovered, the pygmy elephants who lived contemporaneously with the extinct humans, and so much more.