May 13, 2014

Liran Carmel
Department of Genetics
Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Jerusalem 91904

Dear Liran Carmel:
How thrilling that you are able to recover methlation information from so long ago. (Dave Gokhman et al Reconstructing the DNA methylation maps of the Neandertal and Denisovan SCIENCE vol. 344 no. 6183 May 2, 2014 page 623)  Methylation patterns change from one cell generation to the next, and of course from one human generation to the next.

My own interest, which is neither here nor there for you, is in the relationship between methylation patterns and fertility.  I cannot promise it, but my best guess is that an adequate match in methylation patterns is needed for adequate fertility.  More to the point, methylation patterns should run in families and vary from generation to generation in a predictable way.  I have not heard of anybody doing family trees of methylation patterns over, say, ten generations of humans, and it probably wouldn’t be easy, but it might be possible.

Here’s the payoff.  Figure out how much methylation patterns change per generation.  Then compare the pattern on homologous chromosomes from your Denisovan and Neanderthal data.  That should give you a better idea of actual mating pattern than classical population genetics, which depends on DNA sequence changes which are slow in comparison with human experience.  Methylation changes a lot faster.  Picture it, “Kinship and Marriage among Archaic Humans;” it’s difficult enough to do among contemporary humans, but it is the soul of anthropology.

Let me know what you think.


M. Linton Herbert MD

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