Betül Kaçar is an assistant professor at the University of Arizona, and a pioneer in the field of paleogenomics — using genetic material to dive back deep into the ancestry of important compounds. (University of Arizona)
Paleontology has for centuries worked to understand the distant past by digging up fossilized remains and analyzing how and why they fit into the evolutionary picture. The results have been impressive.
But they have been limited. The evolutionary picture painted relies largely on the discovery of once hard-bodied organisms, with a smattering of iconic finds of soft-bodied creatures.
In recent years, however, a new approach to understanding the biological evolution of life has evolved under the umbrella discipline of paleogenomics. The emerging field explores ancient life and ancient Earth by focusing on genetic material from ancient organisms preserved in today’s organisms.
These genes can be studied on their own or can be synthetically placed into today’s living organisms to see if, and how, they change behavior.
The goals are ambitious: To help understand both the early evolution and even the origins of life, as well as to provide a base of knowledge about likely characteristics of potential life on other planets or moons.