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Phenotypes from ancient DNA: Approaches, insights and prospects



The great majority of phenotypic characteristics are complex traits, complicating the identification of the genes underlying their expression. However, both methodological and theoretical progress in genome-wide association studies have resulted in a much better understanding of the underlying genetics of many phenotypic traits, including externally visible characteristics (EVCs) such as eye and hair color. Consequently, it has become possible to predict EVCs from human samples lacking phenotypic information. Predicting EVCs from genetic evidence is clearly appealing for forensic applications involving the personal identification of human remains. Now, a recent paper has reported the genetic determination of eye and hair color in samples up to 800 years old. The ability to predict EVCs from ancient human remains opens up promising perspectives for ancient DNA research, as this could allow studies to directly address archaeological and evolutionary questions related to the temporal and geographical origins of the genetic variants underlying phenotypes.