Hendrik Poinar

Time-traveling with Ancient DNA

Hendrik Poinar

Hendrik Poinar is an evolutionary geneticist who develops and employs novel enrichment and sequencing strategies to access ancient genomes from fossil remains, in order to reconstruct their evolutionary history.

He completed his PhD at the University of Munich, was an EMBO fellow at Cancer Research UK, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Oregon and a Junior Group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, before becoming a Canada Research Chair in Paleogenetics at McMaster University in 2003.


The son of noted entomologist George Poinar, Jr. and Eva Hecht-Poinar, Poinar received his B.S. and M.S. degrees from California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo in 1992 and 1999 respectively before earning a Ph.D. in 1999 from the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich, after which he was a postdoctoral researcher from 2000 to 2003 at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

In a joint 2000 paper in Science, Poinar and Dr. Alan Cooper argued that much existing work in human ancient DNA has not been sufficiently rigorous to prevent DNA contamination from modern human sources, and that many reported results for ancient human DNA may therefore be suspect. Two years later, Poinar and others from the Max Planck Institute published genetic sequences isolated from coprolites of the extinct Shasta giant ground sloth, with an estimated age of 10500 years using radiocarbon dates. These were the first genetic sequences retrieved from any extinct ground sloth.

As an Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair at McMaster University, he uses both chemical and molecular techniques to elucidate the state of preservation within forensic, archeological and paleontological remains. This information is subsequently used to devise novel techniques to extract the molecular information (DNA and/or protein sequences) which is then used to address evolutionary and anthropological questions, such as the “relatedness” of Archaic humans and Neanderthals from a genetic standpoint, sex and diet from prehistoric Native Amerindian hunter-gatherer populations using coprolites samples, and the timing and origin of HIV using archival blood and brain tissue samples.


Hendrik Poinar time travels with Woolly Mammoths

Evolutionary geneticist Hendrik Poinar wonders whether extinction is truly irreversible. He travels...

Hendrik Poinar - How Pathogens Have Changed Us

Go back in time with Hendrik Poinar and learn about preserving DNA and the Black Plague.