The study of the evolution of epigenetic regulation in humans proves to be rather difficult because of the lack of material at our disposal... The collaboration between a stem cell biologist, Eran Meshorer, an associate member of EpiGeneSys, and a computational biologist, Liran Carmel, abled to circumvent this problem by analyzing the genomes of two archaic humans, a Neanderthal and a Denisovan. These hominids lived in Europe and Asia and split from present-day humans between 555,000 and 765,000 years ago.
Their results were recently published in Science and highlighted in Science and Nature.
Based on the observation of the natural degradation process of cytosine -unmethylated C decays to T and methylated C decays to U- Meshorer & Carmel were able to reconstruct the methylation map of ancient DNA and find some differences between archaic and modern humans. The main changes occur in the HOXD cluster, a key regulator of limb development, one of the distinctions that appeared during our evolution.
In addition to exploring the epigenetic landscape of our ancestors, this technique will allow to study the epigenomes of more extinct species.