Anders Hansen “From Ancient DNA to Zoonotic Diseases”

Anders Hansen “From Ancient DNA to Zoonotic Diseases”

By Julie T. Shapiro

On July 24th, the Biodiversity Institute hosted Prof. Anders J. Hansen. Prof. Hansen is the Director of Research at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, professor at the University of Copenhagen, and leader of the Genetic Identification and Discovery Group at the Centre for GeoGenetics, a Danish Center of Excellence. He is also a co-founder of the National Wildlife Forensic Facility. He has published over 100 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, with papers in Science, Nature, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. For eight years, Prof. Hansen worked in Forensics before returning to academia. His current research is wide-ranging, focusing on applications and development of both molecular techniques and bioinformatics to study ancient and modern DNA or RNA from a range of materials, including human clinical samples, wildlife fecal samples, and sediments.

After a lunch catered by Mi Apa, Prof. Hansen gave a talk entitled “From Ancient DNA to Zoonotic Diseases: Applications of Next Generation Sequencing Technology.” He discussed a range of research projects in his lab covering everything from population genetics and pedigrees of endangered wildlife to drug-resistance in the microbiome of urban rats. Results of his research also have implications for understanding history and anthropology. For example, a study of kitchen middens in Greenland showed that dogs were brought there earlier than previously believed and indicated that whales were consumed by people during a time period for which there had not been previous archeological evidence of this.

The talk was attended by students, post-docs, and faculty from a range of departments, including the Florida Museum of Natural History, Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Entomology and Nematology, Horticultural Sciences, Computer and Information Science and Engineering, and Geography. After his talk, Prof. Hansen answered questions and gave advice to audience members on projects ranging from rodent diets to population genetics of ticks to Antarctic sediments.

Kok Ben Toh, a PhD student in the School of Forest Resources and Conservation said he was “impressed by the range of techniques and projects” Prof. Hansen presented. Wildlife Ecology and Conservation PhD student Alex Potash said, “I was especially amazed at how he was able to use DNA from ancient kitchens to determine what was the diet of civilizations from thousands of years ago. His study on drug-resistant bacteria in the guts of rats underneath the Copenhagen hospital was as fascinating as it was terrifying.” He also noted, “Even without advanced knowledge in microbiology, Anders made it easy to understand the myriad of applications that forensic DNA techniques offer to modern scientific research.”

Find out more about:

Prof. Hansen’s research here:, and the Centre for GeoGenetics here: