Old Noses

Are the olfactory repertoires of ancient hominins distinct from modern humans? No research has yet shown that hominin olfactory repertoires are the same as modern humans. Our aim is to determine if novel variants in the paleogenomes of Altai Neandertal and Denisova resulted in distinct olfactory repertoires. Identifying variation in olfactory repertoires within a comparative evolutionary frame advances knowledge on hominin dietary evolution and evolutionary ecology. Traditional approaches to inferring gene function in extinct species have relied on computational methods. We seek funding for testing a transformative novel approach that involves reconstruction of hominin olfactory receptors (ORs) and experimental validation of their functional responses to odorants. These methods are applicable to any study seeking to test hypotheses about functional evolutionary adaptation in extinct species (or human populations). Our main objectives are to:

  1. Identify variants in paleogenomic sequence data using a custom bioinformatics pipeline
  2. Create ancient hominin ORs using overlap extension PCR
  3. Experimentally validate functional variant impact on odorant response in ancient hominin ORs