Professional Education

  • Doctor of Philosophy, Kjobenhavns Universitet (2013)
  • Licenciatura, Universidad Nacional Autonoma Mexico (2009)

Stanford Advisors


Journal Articles

  • Genome-wide ancestry of 17th-century enslaved Africans from the Caribbean PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Schroeder, H., Avila-Arcos, M. C., Malaspinas, A., Poznik, G. D., Sandoval-Velasco, M., Carpenter, M. L., Moreno-Mayar, J. V., Sikora, M., Johnson, P. L., Allentoft, M. E., Samaniego, J. A., Haviser, J. B., Dee, M. W., Stafford, T. W., Salas, A., Orlando, L., Willerslev, E., Bustamante, C. D., Gilbert, M. T. 2015; 112 (12): 3669-3673


    Between 1500 and 1850, more than 12 million enslaved Africans were transported to the New World. The vast majority were shipped from West and West-Central Africa, but their precise origins are largely unknown. We used genome-wide ancient DNA analyses to investigate the genetic origins of three enslaved Africans whose remains were recovered on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin. We trace their origins to distinct subcontinental source populations within Africa, including Bantu-speaking groups from northern Cameroon and non-Bantu speakers living in present-day Nigeria and Ghana. To our knowledge, these findings provide the first direct evidence for the ethnic origins of enslaved Africans, at a time for which historical records are scarce, and demonstrate that genomic data provide another type of record that can shed new light on long-standing historical questions.

    View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.1421784112

    View details for Web of Science ID 000351477000038

    View details for PubMedID 25755263

  • Optimization of DNA Recovery and Amplification from Non-Carbonized Archaeobotanical Remains PLOS ONE Wales, N., Andersen, K., Cappellini, E., Avila-Arcos, M. C., Gilbert, M. T. 2014; 9 (1)


    Ancient DNA (aDNA) recovered from archaeobotanical remains can provide key insights into many prominent archaeological research questions, including processes of domestication, past subsistence strategies, and human interactions with the environment. However, it is often difficult to isolate aDNA from ancient plant materials, and furthermore, such DNA extracts frequently contain inhibitory substances that preclude successful PCR amplification. In the age of high-throughput sequencing, this problem is even more significant because each additional endogenous aDNA molecule improves analytical resolution. Therefore, in this paper, we compare a variety of DNA extraction techniques on primarily desiccated archaeobotanical remains and identify which method consistently yields the greatest amount of purified DNA. In addition, we test five DNA polymerases to determine how well they replicate DNA extracted from non-charred ancient plant remains. Based upon the criteria of resistance to enzymatic inhibition, behavior in quantitative real-time PCR, replication fidelity, and compatibility with aDNA damage, we conclude these polymerases have nuanced properties, requiring researchers to make educated decisions as to which one to use for a given task. The experimental findings should prove useful to the aDNA and archaeological communities by guiding future research methodologies and ensuring precious archaeobotanical remains are studied in optimal ways, and may thereby yield important new perspectives on the interactions between humans and past plant communities.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0086827

    View details for Web of Science ID 000330507300110

    View details for PubMedID 24475182

  • Tracking niche variation over millennial timescales in sympatric killer whale lineages PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY B-BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES Foote, A. D., Newton, J., Avila-Arcos, M. C., Kampmann, M., Samaniego, J. A., Post, K., Rosing-Asvid, A., Sinding, M. S., Gilbert, M. T. 2013; 280 (1768)


    Niche variation owing to individual differences in ecology has been hypothesized to be an early stage of sympatric speciation. Yet to date, no study has tracked niche width over more than a few generations. In this study, we show the presence of isotopic niche variation over millennial timescales and investigate the evolutionary outcomes. Isotopic ratios were measured from tissue samples of sympatric killer whale Orcinus orca lineages from the North Sea, spanning over 10 000 years. Isotopic ratios spanned a range similar to the difference in isotopic values of two known prey items, herring Clupea harengus and harbour seal Phoca vitulina. Two proxies of the stage of speciation, lineage sorting of mitogenomes and genotypic clustering, were both weak to intermediate indicating that speciation has made little progress. Thus, our study confirms that even with the necessary ecological conditions, i.e. among-individual variation in ecology, it is difficult for sympatric speciation to progress in the face of gene flow. In contrast to some theoretical models, our empirical results suggest that sympatric speciation driven by among-individual differences in ecological niche is a slow process and may not reach completion. We argue that sympatric speciation is constrained in this system owing to the plastic nature of the behavioural traits under selection when hunting either mammals or fish.

    View details for DOI 10.1098/rspb.2013.1481

    View details for Web of Science ID 000330321300018

    View details for PubMedID 23945688

  • Mitogenomic insights into a recently described and rarely observed killer whale morphotype POLAR BIOLOGY Foote, A. D., Morin, P. A., Pitman, R. L., Avila-Arcos, M. C., Durban, J. W., van Helden, A., Sinding, M. S., Gilbert, M. T. 2013; 36 (10): 1519-1523
  • A novel endogenous betaretrovirus group characterized from polar bears (Ursus maritimus) and giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) VIROLOGY Mayer, J., Tsangaras, K., Heeger, F., Avila-Arcos, M., Stenglein, M. D., Chen, W., Sun, W., Mazzoni, C. J., Osterrieder, N., Greenwood, A. D. 2013; 443 (1): 1-10


    Transcriptome analysis of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) yielded sequences with highest similarity to the human endogenous retrovirus group HERV-K(HML-2). Further analysis of the polar bear draft genome identified an endogenous betaretrovirus group comprising 26 proviral copies and 231 solo LTRs. Molecular dating indicates the group originated before the divergence of bears from a common ancestor but is not present in all carnivores. Closely related sequences were identified in the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) and characterized from its genome. We have designated the polar bear and giant panda sequences U. maritimus endogenous retrovirus (UmaERV) and A. melanoleuca endogenous retrovirus (AmeERV), respectively. Phylogenetic analysis demonstrated that the bear virus group is nested within the HERV-K supergroup among bovine and bat endogenous retroviruses suggesting a complex evolutionary history within the HERV-K group. All individual remnants of proviral sequences contain numerous frameshifts and stop codons and thus, the virus is likely non-infectious.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.virol.2013.05.008

    View details for Web of Science ID 000322289900001

    View details for PubMedID 23725819

  • One Hundred Twenty Years of Koala Retrovirus Evolution Determined from Museum Skins (vol 30, pg 299, 2013) MOLECULAR BIOLOGY AND EVOLUTION Avila-Arcos, M. C., Ho, S. Y., Ishida, Y., Nikolaidis, N., Tsangaras, K., Hoenig, K., Medina, R., Rasmussen, M., Fordyce, S. L., Calvignac-Spencer, S., Willerslev, E., Gilbert, M. T., Helgen, K. M., Roca, A. L., Greenwood, A. D. 2013; 30 (5): 1237-1237
  • Deep Sequencing of RNA from Ancient Maize Kernels PLOS ONE Fordyce, S. L., Avila-Arcos, M. C., Rasmussen, M., Cappellini, E., Romero-Navarro, J. A., Wales, N., Alquezar-Planas, D. E., Penfield, S., Brown, T. A., Vielle-Calzada, J., Montiel, R., Jorgensen, T., Odegaard, N., Jacobs, M., Arriaza, B., Higham, T. F., Ramsey, C. B., Willersiev, E., Gilbert, M. T. 2013; 8 (1)


    The characterization of biomolecules from ancient samples can shed otherwise unobtainable insights into the past. Despite the fundamental role of transcriptomal change in evolution, the potential of ancient RNA remains unexploited - perhaps due to dogma associated with the fragility of RNA. We hypothesize that seeds offer a plausible refuge for long-term RNA survival, due to the fundamental role of RNA during seed germination. Using RNA-Seq on cDNA synthesized from nucleic acid extracts, we validate this hypothesis through demonstration of partial transcriptomal recovery from two sources of ancient maize kernels. The results suggest that ancient seed transcriptomics may offer a powerful new tool with which to study plant domestication.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0050961

    View details for Web of Science ID 000314705800008

    View details for PubMedID 23326310

  • Historically low mitochondrial DNA diversity in koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) BMC GENETICS Tsangaras, K., Avila-Arcos, M. C., Ishida, Y., Helgen, K. M., Roca, A. L., Greenwood, A. D. 2012; 13


    The koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) is an arboreal marsupial that was historically widespread across eastern Australia until the end of the 19th century when it suffered a steep population decline. Hunting for the fur trade, habitat conversion, and disease contributed to a precipitous reduction in koala population size during the late 1800s and early 1900s. To examine the effects of these reductions in population size on koala genetic diversity, we sequenced part of the hypervariable region of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in koala museum specimens collected in the 19th and 20th centuries, hypothesizing that the historical samples would exhibit greater genetic diversity.The mtDNA haplotypes present in historical museum samples were identical to haplotypes found in modern koala populations, and no novel haplotypes were detected. Rarefaction analyses suggested that the mtDNA genetic diversity present in the museum samples was similar to that of modern koalas.Low mtDNA diversity may have been present in koala populations prior to recent population declines. When considering management strategies, low genetic diversity of the mtDNA hypervariable region may not indicate recent inbreeding or founder events but may reflect an older historical pattern for koalas.

    View details for DOI 10.1186/1471-2156-13-92

    View details for Web of Science ID 000312141900001

    View details for PubMedID 23095716

  • North African Populations Carry the Signature of Admixture with Neandertals PLOS ONE Sanchez-Quinto, F., Botigue, L. R., Civit, S., Arenas, C., Avila-Arcos, M. C., Bustamante, C. D., Comas, D., Lalueza-Fox, C. 2012; 7 (10)


    One of the main findings derived from the analysis of the Neandertal genome was the evidence for admixture between Neandertals and non-African modern humans. An alternative scenario is that the ancestral population of non-Africans was closer to Neandertals than to Africans because of ancient population substructure. Thus, the study of North African populations is crucial for testing both hypotheses. We analyzed a total of 780,000 SNPs in 125 individuals representing seven different North African locations and searched for their ancestral/derived state in comparison to different human populations and Neandertals. We found that North African populations have a significant excess of derived alleles shared with Neandertals, when compared to sub-Saharan Africans. This excess is similar to that found in non-African humans, a fact that can be interpreted as a sign of Neandertal admixture. Furthermore, the Neandertal's genetic signal is higher in populations with a local, pre-Neolithic North African ancestry. Therefore, the detected ancient admixture is not due to recent Near Eastern or European migrations. Sub-Saharan populations are the only ones not affected by the admixture event with Neandertals.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0047765

    View details for Web of Science ID 000311146900109

    View details for PubMedID 23082212

  • Genomic Affinities of Two 7,000-Year-Old Iberian Hunter-Gatherers CURRENT BIOLOGY Sanchez-Ouinto, F., Schroeder, H., Ramirez, O., Avila-Arcos, M. C., Pybus, M., Olalde, I., Velazquez, A. M., Prada Marcos, M. E., Vidal Encinas, J. M., Bertranpetit, J., Orlando, L., Gilbert, M. T., Lalueza-Fox, C. 2012; 22 (16): 1494-1499
  • A simple method for the parallel deep sequencing of full influenza A genomes JOURNAL OF VIROLOGICAL METHODS Kampmann, M., Fordyce, S. L., Avila-Arcos, M. C., Rasmussen, M., Willerslev, E., Nielsen, L. P., Gilbert, M. T. 2011; 178 (1-2): 243-248


    Given the major threat of influenza A to human and animal health, and its ability to evolve rapidly through mutation and reassortment, tools that enable its timely characterization are necessary to help monitor its evolution and spread. For this purpose, deep sequencing can be a very valuable tool. This study reports a comprehensive method that enables deep sequencing of the complete genomes of influenza A subtypes using the Illumina Genome Analyzer IIx (GAIIx). By using this method, the complete genomes of nine viruses were sequenced in parallel, representing the 2009 pandemic H1N1 virus, H5N1 virus from human and H1N1 virus from swine, on a single lane of a GAIIx flow cell to an average depth of 122-fold. This technique can be applied to cultivated and uncultivated virus.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.jviromet.2011.09.001

    View details for Web of Science ID 000297451600035

    View details for PubMedID 21946287

  • An Aboriginal Australian Genome Reveals Separate Human Dispersals into Asia SCIENCE Rasmussen, M., Guo, X., Wang, Y., Lohmueller, K. E., Rasmussen, S., Albrechtsen, A., Skotte, L., Lindgreen, S., Metspalu, M., Jombart, T., Kivisild, T., Zhai, W., Eriksson, A., Manica, A., Orlando, L., De La Vega, F. M., Tridico, S., Metspalu, E., Nielsen, K., Avila-Arcos, M. C., Moreno-Mayar, J. V., Muller, C., Dortch, J., Gilbert, M. T., Lund, O., Wesolowska, A., Karmin, M., Weinert, L. A., Wang, B., Li, J., Tai, S., Xiao, F., Hanihara, T., van Driem, G., Jha, A. R., Ricaut, F., de Knijff, P., Migliano, A. B., Romero, I. G., Kristiansen, K., Lambert, D. M., Brunak, S., Forster, P., Brinkmann, B., Nehlich, O., Bunce, M., Richards, M., Gupta, R., Bustamante, C. D., Krogh, A., Foley, R. A., Lahr, M. M., Balloux, F., Sicheritz-Ponten, T., Villems, R., Nielsen, R., Wang, J., Willerslev, E. 2011; 334 (6052): 94-98


    We present an Aboriginal Australian genomic sequence obtained from a 100-year-old lock of hair donated by an Aboriginal man from southern Western Australia in the early 20th century. We detect no evidence of European admixture and estimate contamination levels to be below 0.5%. We show that Aboriginal Australians are descendants of an early human dispersal into eastern Asia, possibly 62,000 to 75,000 years ago. This dispersal is separate from the one that gave rise to modern Asians 25,000 to 38,000 years ago. We also find evidence of gene flow between populations of the two dispersal waves prior to the divergence of Native Americans from modern Asian ancestors. Our findings support the hypothesis that present-day Aboriginal Australians descend from the earliest humans to occupy Australia, likely representing one of the oldest continuous populations outside Africa.

    View details for DOI 10.1126/science.1211177

    View details for Web of Science ID 000295580300047

    View details for PubMedID 21940856

  • High-throughput sequencing of core STR loci for forensic genetic investigations using the Roche Genome Sequencer FLX platform BIOTECHNIQUES Fordyce, S. L., Avila-Arcos, M. C., Rockenbauer, E., Borsting, C., Frank-Hansen, R., Petersen, F. T., Willerslev, E., Hansen, A. J., Morling, N., Gilbert, M. T. 2011; 51 (2): 127-?


    The analysis and profiling of short tandem repeat (STR) loci is routinely used in forensic genetics. Current methods to investigate STR loci, including PCR-based standard fragment analyses and capillary electrophoresis, only provide amplicon lengths that are used to estimate the number of STR repeat units. These methods do not allow for the full resolution of STR base composition that sequencing approaches could provide. Here we present an STR profiling method based on the use of the Roche Genome Sequencer (GS) FLX to simultaneously sequence multiple core STR loci. Using this method in combination with a bioinformatic tool designed specifically to analyze sequence lengths and frequencies, we found that GS FLX STR sequence data are comparable to conventional capillary electrophoresis-based STR typing. Furthermore, we found DNA base substitutions and repeat sequence variations that would not have been identified using conventional STR typing.

    View details for DOI 10.2144/000113721

    View details for Web of Science ID 000294146600015

    View details for PubMedID 21806557

  • Application and comparison of large-scale solution-based DNA capture-enrichment methods on ancient DNA. Scientific reports Avila-Arcos, M. C., Cappellini, E., Romero-Navarro, J. A., Wales, N., Moreno-Mayar, J. V., Rasmussen, M., Fordyce, S. L., Montiel, R., Vielle-Calzada, J., Willerslev, E., Gilbert, M. T. 2011; 1: 74-?


    The development of second-generation sequencing technologies has greatly benefitted the field of ancient DNA (aDNA). Its application can be further exploited by the use of targeted capture-enrichment methods to overcome restrictions posed by low endogenous and contaminating DNA in ancient samples. We tested the performance of Agilent's SureSelect and Mycroarray's MySelect in-solution capture systems on Illumina sequencing libraries built from ancient maize to identify key factors influencing aDNA capture experiments. High levels of clonality as well as the presence of multiple-copy sequences in the capture targets led to biases in the data regardless of the capture method. Neither method consistently outperformed the other in terms of average target enrichment, and no obvious difference was observed either when two tiling designs were compared. In addition to demonstrating the plausibility of capturing aDNA from ancient plant material, our results also enable us to provide useful recommendations for those planning targeted-sequencing on aDNA.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/srep00074

    View details for PubMedID 22355593

  • Recurrent DNA inversion rearrangements in the human genome PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Flores, M., Morales, L., Gonzaga-Jauregui, C., Dominguez-Vidana, R., Zepeda, C., Yanez, O., Gutierrez, M., Lemus, T., Valle, D., Avila, M. C., Blanco, D., Medina-Ruiz, S., Meza, K., Ayala, E., Garcia, D., Bustos, P., Gonzalez, V., Girard, L., Tusie-Luna, T., Davila, G., Palacios, R. 2007; 104 (15): 6099-6106


    Several lines of evidence suggest that reiterated sequences in the human genome are targets for nonallelic homologous recombination (NAHR), which facilitates genomic rearrangements. We have used a PCR-based approach to identify breakpoint regions of rearranged structures in the human genome. In particular, we have identified intrachromosomal identical repeats that are located in reverse orientation, which may lead to chromosomal inversions. A bioinformatic workflow pathway to select appropriate regions for analysis was developed. Three such regions overlapping with known human genes, located on chromosomes 3, 15, and 19, were analyzed. The relative proportion of wild-type to rearranged structures was determined in DNA samples from blood obtained from different, unrelated individuals. The results obtained indicate that recurrent genomic rearrangements occur at relatively high frequency in somatic cells. Interestingly, the rearrangements studied were significantly more abundant in adults than in newborn individuals, suggesting that such DNA rearrangements might start to appear during embryogenesis or fetal life and continue to accumulate after birth. The relevance of our results in regard to human genomic variation is discussed.

    View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.0701631104

    View details for Web of Science ID 000245737500004

    View details for PubMedID 17389356

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