Genomic History of Denmark – University of Copenhagen

Forward this page to a friend Resize Print Bookmark and Share

Research > Strengths > Excellence Programme > Genomic History of Den...

The centre has received a 36 mill. DKK grant from Univ. of Copenhagen's dedicated 2016-program. Researchers from GeoGenetics in close cooperation with collegues from the National Museum of Denmark and institutes at the University of Copenhagen will make Denmark the first country in the world to map its evolutionary, demographic and health history - from the earliest settlers through to modern times.

DNA and proteins extracted from a Danish collection of archaeological skeletons from the Older Stone Age (5000-3000 BC) will be analysed in order to learn more about the Danish cultural heritage and health history.

Professor and director of the Centre for GeoGenetics Eske Willerslev is Principle Investigator.


We propose to:

1. Showcase Denmark as the first country in the World to map its evolutionary, demographic, and health histories (from the earliest settlers to modern times) using cutting-edge molecular methods

2. Interpret the findings in relation to past environmental changes, and archaeological and cultural historical records

3. Use the results to understand the background for the current genetic composition and state of health of the Danish population

4. Investigate the perception by which molecular work on modern and ancient human material is reflected in Danish law, and address the challenges that such works impose on the individual’s right to anonymity

5. Investigate the impact that knowledge of our genomic history may have on our personal and collective self-understanding. We are taking our point of departure in five periods of significant development as judged from an archaeological and cultural perspective (that is currently defining most of Danish and European human histories). These findings reflect back on the archaeological point of departure shedding new light on some of its fundamental hypotheses.

A World first

The project will likely add new views to Danish and European debates on heritage and national affiliations by re-addressing when and from where our ancestors came. At the same time results will allow Denmark as the first country to understand its genetic disease risk and drug suitability (personal genomics) from historical/evolutionary perspectives.

Thus, the data should allow us understanding when and possibly why current highly frequent genetic diseases, like haemochromatosis and cystic fibrosis, and increased HIV resistance became abundant in Denmark.

Cross-faculty cooperation

Importantly, the study represents a unique opportunity to show that natural science methods have a place in fields traditionally dominated by humanities, and vice versa: By combining scientific methods, new and unique information can be gained. By analysing the scientific results from a health or humanities perspective new questions for scientific scrutiny can be identified, and the scope of the implications of the scientific findings for our cultural and historical understanding and identity can be further explored.

Finally, the proposed education scheme and infrastructure will in combination with the proposed project make University of Copenhagen the only place in the World that creates a truly multidisciplinary national unit for addressing genetics, proteomics, epigenetics, archaeological, legal and philosophical aspects of human demography and health.

This will cement deep cross-talks potentially nurturing major innovative approaches from academic expertise fields that often remain isolated. Additionally, it will allow University of Copenhagen to take the lead in future national, European and international projects on genomics and exploring future construction work in Denmark that has a constitutional obligation to direct funds towards archaeological investigations including natural sciences.

Principal co-applicants

Principle investigator: Prof. Eske Willerslev, Natural History Museum of Denmark (NHMD), Centre for GeoGenetics

Dr. Anders Albrechtsen (SCIENCE), Biology

Dr. Morten Allentoft (SCIENCE), NHMD

Dr. Enrico Cappellini (SCIENCE), NHMD

Prof. M. Thomas P. Gilbert (SCIENCE), NHMD

Prof. Mette Hartlev, Centre for Legal Studies in Welfare and EU Market Integration

Prof. Lars Juhl Jensen (SUND), Center for Protein Research

Prof. Christian Kapel (SCIENCE; former LIFE), Plant & Environmental Sciences

Prof. Kurt H. Kjær (SCIENCE), NHMD

Prof. Anders Krogh (SCIENCE), Biology

Prof. Niels Lynnerup (SUND), Forensics

Dr. Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas (SCIENCE), NHMD

Dir. Morten Meldgaard (SCIENCE), NHMD

Prof. Niels Morling (SUND), Forensics

Prof. Børge G. Nordestgaard (SUND), Clinical Sciences

Prof. Jesper Velgaard Olsen (SUND), Center for Protein Research

Assoc. Prof. Ludovic Orlando (SCIENCE), NHMD

Prof. Klavs Randsborg (HUM) Archaeology

Dr. Morten Rasmussen (SCIENCE), NHMD

Prof. Rasmus Nielsen (SCIENCE), Biology

Prof. Carsten Wiuf (SCIENCE), Mathematical Sciences

Prof. Dan Zahavi (HUM), Center for Subjectivity Research