As the CrEAME Initiative scientists taking part in the MendTheGap project, we (Klaudija Carović Stanko, Martina Grdiša, Zlatko Šatović and Zlatko Liber) visited Cambridge University from 22nd November to 6th December 2016. During our stay in Cambridge we met with fellow scientists from the Division of Archaeology, McDonald’s Institute for Archaeological Research, Department of Plant Sciences and National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) with whom we discussed various topics regarding the science of the past and genetics. We learned more about their organisation, existing collaborations, best practices and current activities in these fields.
On the very first day of our stay we had the great opportunity to attend the 28th McDonald Annual Lecture by Professor Eske Willerslev entitled: “Human migration and mega faunal extinctions” (http://www.arch.cam.ac.uk/watch-online-28th-mcdonald-annual-lecture-by-prof-eske-willerslev).
During our visit we were especially glad to meet with Dr Diane Lister, Dr Andrew Clarke, Dr Robyn J Veal, Dr Toomas Kivisild, Dr Freddi Scheib, Dr Jacqueline Garget, Dr Mariana Fazenda and Alison Bentley.
With Dr. Diane Lister and Dr Andrew Clarke we discussed the genetic analysis of barley, wheat, foxtail millet, broomcorn millet and bottle gourd. In their studies they try to establish when and how early the globalisation of staple foodstuffs happened as well as to get insights into the early domestication of plants, the spread of agriculture, and the mapping of prehistoric human migration. We also talked about their experience in working on ancient plant DNA from straw, animal dung, grain from old seed banks, herbarium specimen and desiccated wheat from archaeological sites.
Very interesting was meeting with Dr Robyn J Veal who showed us her lab and introduced her colleges. They mostly do research on plant macrofossils, phytoliths, pollen, fibres and archaeological charcoal residues.
We could say that the central event of our short-term mobility (STM) at Cambridge University was the visit to the ancient DNA lab in the Leverhulme Center for Human Evolutionary Studies. There, Dr Toomas Kivisild and Dr Freddi Scheib demonstrated how to extract ancient DNA from less than ideal sources of ancient human remain, how to sequence and analyse that DNA using NGS technology and modern bioinformatics tools as well as how to equip and run an ancient DNA lab.
At the Department of Plant Sciences we had a very interesting talk with Dr Jacqueline Garget and Dr Mariana Fazenda about Strategic Research Initiative in Global Food Security and activities which have been done to foster interdisciplinary interactions across Cambridge University and provide better support for funding applications.
National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) is an international centre for plant research, crop evaluation and agronomy. It is a unique national resource, with nearly 100 years of experience and an internationally recognised reputation for independence, innovation and integrity. At NIAB, we attended Dr Alex Whan lecture on Multi-parent Advanced Generation Inter-Cross (MAGIC) in wheat and we had a meeting with Dr Alison Bentley, director of Genetics and Breeding. We talked about current collaboration between NIAB and Croatian scientists and possibilities of more intensive collaboration in the future.
At the end of this report we would like to thank Dr. Preston Miracle, who helped us a lot in the organization of our mobility and stay in Cambridge and who also invited us to be his guest at St John’s Formal Hall. Also, many thanks to Dr Robyn J Veal who organized an unforgettable Saturday’s outing to the English countryside and a travel back in time with the visit of Audley End house and gardens.