University of Nottingham:From skeletons to soil – new laboratory launched to analyse ancient DNA

A new specialist laboratory has opened in the East Midlands that will allow DNA from ancient and environmental samples to be analysed, helping researchers answer important questions about the past and reveal new insights into the future.

The Nottingham Ancient and Environmental DNA Laboratory (ÆDNA) is on Sutton Bonington Campus at the University of Nottingham and is the first of its kind for the University and in the East Midlands. The laboratory will allow isolation and analysis of damaged, degraded and low-copy DNA to address research questions across biology, environmental science, geography and archaeology.

To ensure the DNA can be isolated and analysed without any contamination the lab has been built as a clean room environment. To achieve this, bespoke features have been incorporated into the building, including an air filtration system that filters incoming air, removing any particles that could contaminate samples. The ceiling is also fitted with contamination-destroying ultraviolet lights that switch on at night to ensure the lab remains clean.

The new lab will represent a significant advance in research capability at the University and provide a great opportunity for researchers from different disciplines to work together on important projects. Having access to this state-of-the-art facility will allow researchers to analyse DNA from archaeological material, preserved plant specimens, ancient soils and museum objects that are hundreds to thousands of years old.
Dr Andrew Clarke, Assistant Professor in Archaeogenetics and ÆDNA project lead
Professor Hannah O’Regan will be among the first scientists to start using the lab. She said: “I’m really excited by the opportunities offered by the new lab for archaeology research at the University of Nottingham. For my research area, ancient DNA can tell us about the relatedness of domestic animals, to allow us to look at breeding, and, in very special cases coat colour. I’m currently working on several projects involving extinct or endangered wild mammals in Britain, and the lab will be a crucial part of piecing together their stories.”

The lab was officially opened by Pro-Vice Chancellor for Science, Zoe Wilson who commented: “As well as offering a fantastic new research facility for multidisciplinary research, the ÆDNA lab will also bring new opportunities for external collaborations which will also extend our international reach in this area. It also has the potential to bring commercial and civic opportunities with possible heritage and historic projects that will benefit the local and wider community.”