Title: Ancient DNA and Evolution

Track record

Eske Willerslev (EW) is director of Centre for Ancient Genetics, situated at the Biological Institute and the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen. During his PhD, EW established the first ancient DNA facility in Denmark, which, despite its small size, rapidly became internationally recognized for, among other things, establishing the fields of ancient sedimentary and ice core genetics, which have since become world-wide scientific disciplines. After finishing his PhD studentship EW obtained a prestigious Wellcome Trust Fellowship to join the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford, UK – a world-leading institution in many fields of research, including ancient DNA. Recently, at the age of 33, EW was called back to University of Copenhagen to commence the position of Full Professor at the Biological Institute and the Niels Bohr Institute. In addition, he has been awarded the prestigious position of Visiting Professor by Oxford University.

EW is an internationally recognised researcher in the fields of ancient DNA, DNA degradation, and evolutionary biology. He has 6 publications in Science and Nature, and publications in other high profile peer review journals such as The Lancet; Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS); Current Biology (Curr. Biol.); American Journal of Human Genetics (Am. J. Hum. Gen.); Molecular Biology and Evolution (MBE); TRENDS in Ecology and Evolution (TREE); TRENDS in Microbiology (TIM); PloS Biology; Genetics; Geology ; Nucleic Acid Research (Nucl. Acid. Res.); and Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B (Proc. Royal. Soc. Lon. B.).   His research interests include: palaeoecology (e.g. Science, 2003; Science, 2004), palaeontology (e.g. Nature, 2003, PloS Biology, 2005), archaeology (e.g. Science, 2001; Am. J. Hum. Gen. 2003a), domestication (Science, 2005), ancient microbial biology (e.g. PNAS, 1999; Curr. Biol. 2004; TREE, 2004; TIM, 2005), DNA degradation and repair (e.g. MBE, 2001a; Am. J. Hum. Gen. 2003b,c; Genetics 2006a,b; Nucl. Acid. Res.), exobiology (e.g. Lancet, 2003; Geology, 2005), phylogenetics (e.g. Curr. Biol. 2004), and molecular evolution (e.g. MBE, 2001b). EW has served as a reviewer for various grant agencies and journals including the NSF (US), PNAS; Curr. Biol.; Am. J. Hum. Gen., Geology, Proc. R. Soc. Lon. B. and TREE. EW is an invited member of the International Mars Cyroscout drilling team (NASA), and scientific organizer for the 3rd and 4th Mars Polar Conferences (NASA). He has been an keynote or invited speaker at 28 international conferences and meetings, has successfully applied for and been awarded 19 large research grants and academic prizes in Denmark, UK, Australia, and the EU, and has supervised 19 MSc students, PhD students, and post doctoral associates in Copenhagen and Oxford. EW has strong collaborations with world leading scientists in Europe, USA, Canada, and Russia, and participated in 11 international polar expeditions, 5 of which he led. He has communicated his work to the public through documentary films, books, popular articles, museum exhibitions and numerous national and international TV, newspaper, and magazine interviews.


















  1. Allentoft ME, Scuster SC, Holdaway RN, Hale M, McLay E, Oskam C, Gibert MTP, Spencer P, Willerslev E, Bunce M. Identification of microsatellites from an extinct moa spoecies using high throughput sequence data. BioTechniques (Accepted).
  2. Hebsgaard MB, Arneborg J, Gilbert MTP, Heyn P, Allentoft ME, Bunce M, Munch K, Schweger C, Willerslev E. “The Farm Beneath the Sand” - An Archaeological Case Study on Ancient “Dirt” DNA. Antiquity (Accepted).
  3. Solazzo C, Fitzhugh W, Loring S, Cappellini E, Gilbert MTP, Willerslev E, Penkman K, Collins MJ. What’s in the pot? Multiple approaches to the analysis and interpretation of organi residues in ceramics from the Iñupiat culture, Point Barrow, Alaska. Antiquity (In Press.)
  4. Munch K, Boomsma W, Willerslev E, Nielsen R. Fast Phylogenetic DNA barcoding. Philos Trans R. Soc. Lond. B. 2008 Oct 7. (In Press.)
  5. Mourier T, Willerslev E. Does selection against transcriptional interference shape retrotransposon-free regions in the human genome?"  PLoS ONE 3, e3760 (2008)
  6. Binladen J. and Willerslev E. "Why study ancient DNA damage?" J. Nordic
  7. Archaeological Science 2008,16 (In Press.)
  8. Hebsgaard MB, Willerslev E. Very Old DNA. In Permafrost Soils (Soil Biology) (Rosa Margesin ed.). Springer. 2008 (In Press.)
  9. Munch K, Boomsma W, Huelsenbeck JP, Willerslev E, Nielsen R. Statistical Assignment of DNA Sequences using Bayesian Phylogenetics. Syst. Biol. 5, 750-757 (2008)
  10. Axelsson E, Willerslev E, Gilbert MTP, Nielsen R. The effect of ancient DNA damage on inferences of demographic histories Mol. Boil. Evol. 25, 2181-2187 (2008)
  11. Sørensen MV, Hebsgaard MB, Heiner I, Glenner H, Willerslev E, Kristensen RM. New data from an enigmatic phylum: evidence from molecular sequence data supports a sister-group relationship between Loricifera and Nematomorpha Source. J. Zoo. Syst. Evol. Res. 46, 231-239 (2008).
  12. Gilbert MT, Kivisild T, Grønnow B, Andersen PK, Metspalu E, Reidla M, Tamm E, Axelsson E, Götherström A, Campos PF, Rasmussen M, Metspalu M, Higham TF, Schwenninger JL, Nathan R, De Hoog CJ, Koch A, Møller LN, Andreasen C, Meldgaard M, Villems R, Bendixen C, Willerslev E. Paleo-Eskimo mtDNA Genome Reveals Matrilineal Discontinuity in Greenland Science 320, 1787-1789 (2008).
  13. Gilbert MTP, Drautz DI, Lesk AM, Ho SYW, Qi J, Ratan A, Hsu C-H, Sher  A, Dalén L, Götherström A, Tomsho LP, Rendulic S, Packard M, Campos  PF, Kuznetsova T, Shidlovskiy F, Tikhonov A, Willerslev E, Iacumin P,  Buigues B, Ericson PGP, Germonpré M, Kosintsev P, Nikolaev V, Nowak-Kemp M, Knight JR, Irzyk GP, Perbost CS, Fredrikson KM, Harkins TT, Sheridan S, Miller W, Schuster SC. Intraspecific Phylogenetic Analysis of Siberian Woolly Mammoths Using Complete Mitochondrial Genomes. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 105, 8326-8332 (2008).
  14. Gilbert MTP, Jenkins DL, Götherstrom A, Naveran N, Sanchez JJ, Hofreiter M, Thomsen PF, Binladen J, Higham TFG, Yohe II RM, Parr R, Cummings LS, Willerslev E. DNA from Pre-Clovis Human Coprolites in Oregon, North America Science 320, 786-789 (2008)
  15. Malmström H, Vila C, Gilbert MTP, Storå J, Willerslev E, Holmlund G, Götherström A. Barking up the wrong tree: modern northern European dogs fail to explain their origin. BMC Evol Biol. 8, 71 (2008). 
  16. Arnold LJ, Roberts RG, MacPhee RDE, Willerslev E, Tikhonov A.N. Brock F. Optical dating of perennially frozen deposits associated with preserved ancient plant and animal DNA in north-central Siberia Quat. Geochro. 3, 114-136 (2008).
  17. Pool, AM, Willerslev E. Are we Able to Identify a Fourth Domain of Life from Sequence Data, and could we do it on Mars? Astrobiol. 7, 801-814 (2007).
  18. Gilbert MTP, Tomson LP, Rendulic S, Packard M, Drautz DI, Sher A, Tikhonov A, Dalen L, Kuznetsolva T, Kosintsev P, Campos PF, Higham T, Collins MJ, Wilson AS, Shidlovskiy F, Buigues B, Ericson PG, Germonopre M, Gotherstrom A, Iacumin P, Nikolaev V, Nowak-Kemp M, Willerslev E, et al., Whole-genome shotgun sequencing of mitochondria from ancient hair shafts. Science 317, 1927-30 (2007).
  19. Willerslev E, Cappellini E, Boomsma W, Nielsen R, Hebsgaard MB, Brand TB, Hofreiter M, Bunce M, Poinar HN, Dahl-Jensen D, Johnsen S, Steffensen JP, Bennike O, Funder S, Schwenninger J-L, Nathan R, Armitage S, Barker J, Sharp M, Penkman KEH, Haile J, Taberlet P, MTP Gilbert, Casoli A, Campani E, Collins MJ. Ancient Biomolecules from Deep Ice Cores Reveal a Forested Southern Greenland. Science 317, 111-114 (2007).
  20. Johnson SS, Hebsgaard MB, Christensen T, Mastepanov M, Nielsen R, Munch K, Brand TB. Gilbert MTP, Zuber MT, Bunce M, Rønn R, Gilichinsky D, Froese D, and Willerslev E. Ancient bacteria show evidence of DNA repair. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 104, 14401-14405 (2007).
  21. Gilbert MTP and Willerslev E. Rescuing Ancient DNA. Nature Biotech. 25, 871-872 (2007).
  22. Haile J, Holdaway R, Oliver K, Bunce M, Gilbert MTP, Nielsen R, Munch K, Ho SYW, Willerslev E. Ancient DNA Chronology within Sediment Deposits: Are Paleobiological Reconstructions Possible and is DNA Leaching a Factor? Mol. Biol. Evol. 24,982-989 (2007).
  23. Malmström H, Svensson E, Gilbert MTP, Willerslev E, Götherström A, Holmlund G. More on contamination: The use of asymmetric molecular behaviour to identify authentic ancient human DNA. Mol. Biol. Evol. 24, 998-1004 (2007).
  24. Kuch M, Gröcke DR, Knyf MC, Gilbert MTP, Willerslev E, Younghusband B, Young T, Marshall I, Stoneking M, Poinar HN A Preliminary analysis of the DNA and diet of the extinct Beothuk: A systematic approach to ancient human nuclear DNA Am. J. Phys. Ant. 132, 594-604 (2007).
  25. Dissing J, Binladen J, Hansen AJ, Sejrsen B, Willerslev E, Lynnerup N. The last viking king: A royal maternity case solved by ancient DNA. For. Sci. Int. 14, 21-27 (2007).
  26. Binladen J, Gilbert MTP, Campos PF, Willerslev E. 5' -Tailed sequencing-primers improve sequencing quality of PCR amplicons BioTechniques 42,174-176 (2007).
  27. Taberlet P, Coissac E, Pompanon F, Gielly L, Miquel C, Valentini A, Vermat T, Corthier G, Brochmann C, Willerslev E. Power and limitations of the chloroplast trnL(UAA) intron for plant DNA barcoding Nuc. Acid. Res. 35, e14 (2007).
  28. Binladen J, Gilbert MTP, Bollback J, Panitz F, Bendixen C, Nielsen, Willerslev E. The use of coded PCR primers enables high-throughput sequencing of multiple homolog amplification products by 454 parallel sequencing PLoS ONE e197 1-9 (2007).
  29. Binladen J, Gilbert MTP, Willerslev E. 800,000 years old mammoth DNA, modern elephant DNA or PCR artefact? Biol. Lett. 3, 55-56 (2007)
  30. Hebsgaard M, Wiuf C, Gilbert MTP, Glenner H, Willerslev E. Evaluating Neandertal genetics J. Mol. Evol. 64, 50-60 (2007)
  31. Gilbert MTP, Binladen J, Miller W, Wiuf C, Willerslev E, Poinar HN, Carlson JE, Leebens-Mack JH, Schuster SC. Recharacterization of ancient DNA miscoding lesions: Insights in the era of sequencing-by-synthesis Nucl. Acid. Res. 35, 1-10 (2007).
  32. Glenner H, Fransis Thomsen P, Hebsgaard M, Sørensen, MV, Willerslev E. The origin of insects Science 314, 1183-1184 (2006)  
  33. Gilbert MTP, Willerslev E. Authenticity in Ancient DNA studies J. Hist. Med. 18, 701-724 (2006)
  34. Gilbert MTP, Willerslev E. Ancient Plant DNA. Encyclopedia of Quaternary Science 3, 1574-1582 (2006)
  35. Römpler H, Rohland N, Lalueza-Fox C, Willerslev E, Kuznetsova T, Rabeder G, Schöneberg T, Hofreiter M. Nuclear gene indicates coat-color polymorphism in mammoths Science 313, 62 (2006).
  36. Hansen AJ, Mitchel DL, Rønn R, Wiuf C, Paniker L, Biladen J, Brand TB, Gilichinsky DA, Willerslev E. Crosslinks rather than strand breaks determine access to ancient DNA sequences from frozen sediments Genetics 2, 1175-1179 (2006).
  37. Gilbert MTP, Hansen AJ, Willerslev E, Turner-Walker G, Collins MJ. Insights into the processes behind the contamination of degraded human teeth and bone samples with exogenous sources of DNA Int. J. Osteoarchaeology 16, 156-164 (2006).
  38. Willerslev E, Cooper, A. Pathogenic microbial ancient DNA - a problem or an opportunity? Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 273, 643 (2006).
  39. Binladen J, C Wiuf, Gilbert MTP, Bunce M, Larson G, Barnet R, Hansen AJ, Willerslev E. Assessing the fidelity of ancient DNA sequences amplified from nuclear genes. Genetics 172, 733-744 (2006).
  40. Gilbert MTP, Rudbeck L, Willerslev E, Hansen AJ, Smith C, Penkman KEH, Prangenberg K, Nielsen-Marsh CM, Jans ME, Arthur P, Lynnerup N, Turner-Walker G, Biddle M, Kjølbye-Biddle B, Collins M Biochemical and physical correlates of DNA contamination in archaeological human bones and teeth excavated at Matera, Italy. J. Arch. Sci. 32, 785-793 (2005).
  41. Willerslev E, Hebsgaard MB. New evidence for 250 Ma age of halotolerant bacterium from a Permian salt crystal. Geology e93 (2005).
  42. Weinstock J, Willerslev E, Bravi C, Ho SYW, Martin L, Prieto A, Rubenstein D, Sher A, Storer J, Tong W, Cooper A. Evolution, systematics, and phylogeography of pleistocene horses in the new world: a molecular perspective. PloS Biology 8, e241-e248 (2005).
  43. Rudbeck L, Gilbert MTP, Willerslev E, Hansen AJ, Lynnerup N, Christensen T, Dissing J. mtDNA analysis of human remains from an early Danish Christian cemetery. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 18 April (2005).
  44. Hebsgaard MB, Phillips M, Willerslev E. Geologically ancient DNA: fact or artefact? TRENDS Microbiol. 13, 212-220 (2005).
  45. Mitchell D. Willerslev E, Hansen AJ. Damage and repair of ancient DNA Mutat. Res. 571, 265-276 (2005).
  46. Larson G, Dobney K, Albarella U, Fang M, Matisoo-Smith E, Robins J, Lowden S, Finlayson H, Willerslev E, Rowley-Conwy P, Andersson L, Cooper A. Woldwide phylogeography of wild boar reveals multiple centres of pig domestication Science 11, 1618-1621 (2005).
  47. Lydolph  MC, Jacobsen J, Arctander, P, Gilbert MTP, Gillichinsky DA, Hansen AJ, Willerslev E, Lang L. Beringian plaeoecology inferred from permafrost preserved fungi DNA. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 71, 1012-1017 (2005).
  48. Willerslev E, Cooper A. Ancient DNA. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 272, 3-16 (2005).
  49. Shapiro BA, Drummond A, Rambaut A, Wilson MC, Matheus P, Sher A, Pybus O, Gilbert MTP, Barnes I, Binladen J, Willerslev E, Hansen AJ, Baryshnikov GF, Burns J, Davydov S, Driver J, Froese D, Harington CR, Keddie G, Kosintsev P, Kunz ML, Martin LD, Stephenson RO, Storer J, Tedford R, Zimov S, Cooper A.  Rise and fall of the Beringian steppe bison. Science 306, 1561-1565 (2004).
  50. Willerslev E. Recovery and analysis of ancient DNA from ice, sediments, and fossil remains. DSc thesis University of Copenhagen 2004 pp. 1-346, HCØ tryk, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
  51. Glenner H, Hansen AJ, Sørensen MV, Ronquist F, Huelsenbeck JP, Willerslev E. Bayesian Inference of the metazoan phylogeny: A combined molecular and morphological approach. Curr. Biol. 14, 1644-1649 (2004).
  52. Gilbert MTP, Wilson AS, Bunce M, Hansen AJ, Willerslev E, Shapiro BA, Higham TFG, Richards MP, O'Connell TC, Tobin DJ, Janaway RC, Cooper A. Ancient mitochondrial DNA from hair. Curr. Biol. 14, No. 12. R463-R464 (2004).
  53. Cooper A, Drummond A, Willerslev E. Ancient DNA: Would the real Neandertal please stand up? Curr. Biol. 14, No. 11. R431-R433 (2004).
  54. Willerslev E, Hansen AJ, Poinar HN. Isolation of nucleic acids and cultures from fossil ice and permafrost. TRENDS Ecol. Evol. 19, 141-147 (2004).
  55. Willerslev E, Hansen AJ, Røn R, Brand TB, Wiuf C, Barnes I, Gilichinsky DA, Mitchell D, Cooper A. Long-term survival of bacterial DNA. Curr. Biol. 14, R9-R10 (2004)
  56. Willerslev E, Hansen AJ, Brand T, Binladen J, Gilbert TMP, Shapiro BA, Wiuf C, Gilichinsky DA, Cooper A. Diverse plant and animal DNA from Holocene and Pleistocene sedimentary records Science 300, 791-795 (2003).
  57. Bunce M, Worthy TH, Hoppitt W, Willerslev E, Drummond A, Cooper A. Extreme reversed sexual size dimorphism in the extinct New Zealand moa Dinornis Nature 425, 172-175 (2003).
  58. Willerslev E, Hansen AJ, Rønn R, Nielsen OJ. Panspermia—true or false? Lancet 362, 406 (2003).
  59. Gilbert MTP, Willerslev E, Hansen AJ, Barnes I, Rudbeck L, Lynnerup N, Cooper A. Distribution patterns of post-mortem damage in human mitochondrial DNA. Am. J. Hum. Gen.72, 32-47 (2003).
  60. Gilbert MTP, Hansen AJ, Willerslev E, Barnes I, Rudbeck L, Lynnerup N, Cooper A. Characterisation of genetic miscoding lesions caused by post-mortem damage. Am. J. Hum. Gen. 72, 48-61 (2003).
  61. Endicott P, Gilbert MTP, Stringer C, Lalueza-Fox C, Willerslev E, Hansen AJ, Cooper A. The Genetic Origins of the Andaman Islanders. Am. J. Hum. Gen. 72, 178-184 (2003).
  62. Willerslev E, Mourier T, Hansen AJ, Christensen B, Barnes I, Saltzberg SL. Contamination in the draft of the human genome masquerades as lateral gene transfer. DNA Seq. 13, 75-76 (2002).
  63. Willerslev E, Hansen AJ, Nielsen KK, Adsersen H Number of endemic and native plant species in the Galápagos Archipelago in relation to geographical parameters. Ecography 25, 109-119 (2002).
  64. Hansen AJ, Willerslev E, Mørk S, Hedegaard MM, Rønn R, Jeffares DC. 2002. JAWS: Just add water system – a device for detection of nucleic acids in the Martian ice caps. In Proceedings of the Second European workshop on Exo/Astrobiology Graz, Austria (ESA SP-518, Novembre 2002) (ed. H. Lacoste), pp. 309-311. ESA Publication Division, ESTEC.
  65. Hansen AJ, Willerslev E. 2002 Perspectives for DNA studies on polar ice cores. In The Patagonian Icefields: A Unique Natural Laboratory for Environmental and Climate Change Studies (eds. G. Casassa et al.), pp. 17-29. Kluwer Academic/Plenum Press.
  66. Hansen AJ, Willerslev E, Wiuf C, Mourier T, Arctander P. Statistical evidence for miscoding lesions in ancient DNA templates. Mol. Biol. Evol. 18, 262-265 (2001).
  67. Mourier T, Hansen AJ, Willerslev E, Arctander P. The Human Genome Project Reveals a Continuous Transfer of Evenly Distributed Large Mitochondrial Fragments to the Nucleus. Mol. Biol. Evol. 18, 1833-1837 (2001).
  68. Cooper A, Rambaut A, Macaulay V, Willerslev E, Hansen AJ, Stringer C. Human origins and ancient human DNA. Science 292, 1655-1656 (2001).
  69. Sørensen MV, Funch P, Willerslev E, Hansen AJ, & Olesen JA. On the phylogeny of the Metazoa in the light of Cycliophora and Micrognathozoa. Zool. Anz. 239, 297-318 (2000).
  70. Willerslev E, Hansen AJ, Christensen B, Steffensen JP, Arctander P. Diversity of Holocene life-forms in fossil glacier ice. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 96, 8017-8021 (1999).


  1. Willerslev, E. Kengen den brune bjørn. Berlinske Tidende, 11/9, 18-20 (1993)
  2. Willerslev, E. Sibiriens naturmiljø. På rejse i Sibirien. (Book, eds. Damm, A. Asmussen, I.H. Pedersen, M.) 44-49 (Moesgård Museum of Århus, 1996).
  3. Willerslev, E. Fortabt i Sibirien. På rejse i Sibirien. (Book, eds. Damm, A. Asmussen, I. H. Pedersen, M.) 50-55 (Moesgård Museum of Århus, 1996).
  4. Willerslev, R. & Willerslev, E. Pelsjæger i ødemarken (Book, Klematis, Århus, 1996).
  5. Willerslev, E. Pelsjæger liv i Sibirien. Diana no. 2, 4-11 (1997).
  6. Willerslev, E. Det anarkistiske vilde vesten. Adventure world no. 8, 65-70 (1997).
  7. Willerslev, E. Ekspeditions liv i Sibirien. Adventure world no. 10, 6-11 (1997).
  8. Willerslev, E. (1997) Bjørnejagt i Sibirien. Jæger no. 9, 54-57, (1997).
  9. Willerslev, E. (1997) Tajgaens spisekammer. Jæger no. 11, 96-99 (1997).
  10. Willerslev, E., Hansen, A. J. & Sørensen, M. V. Ringbærene, en ny dyrerække. Naturensverden 1, 15-25 (1998).
  11. Willerslev, E. & Hansen, A. J. Fossilt DNA. Naturens verden 1, 33-40 (2000).
  12. Willerslev, E. & Willerslev, R. Udtømningsapparatet og andre fortællinger fra Sibirien. 24 fortællinger fra det runde bord (Book, GAD, 2003).
  13. Willerslev, E. Fossilt DNA fra sedimenter. Calsbergfondets årsskrift 2007.
  14. Willerslev, E. Fra pelsjærger til professor – en personlig rejse i fortidens dna mysterier (Jyllandspostens forlag, 2008).