Harnessing ancient genomes to study the history of human adaptation.
Marciniak & Perry. 2017. Nature Reviews Genetics.
Plasmodium falciparum malaria in 1st-2nd century CE southern Italy.
Marciniak et al. 2016. Current Biology.
Ancient human genomics: The methodology behind reconstructing evolutionary pathways.
Marciniak et al. 2015. Journal of Human Evolution.
A preliminary assessment of the identification of saw marks on burned bone.
Marciniak. 2009. Journal of Forensic Science.
Since I’ve moved to State College from Ontario (Canada), I’ve taken up hiking and other outdoor activities, so I’m really looking forward to snowshoeing here this winter! I’m into movies, especially '80s action movies, international films and dark comedies. Crosswords and cross-stitching are also my go-to activities.
Do you have any pets?
I do! Right now, I have Keila, a Cane Corso mastiff (a 100lbs goof) who I adopted during the final year of my PhD [left], and a tiny rabbit named Winnie (that I rescued 8 years ago).
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Teleportation, since I’m not a huge fan of air travel.
I tend to exercise to get past any frustration, and maintain a positive perspective. My family, friends and colleagues are invaluable for input/feedback
I’ve always been fascinated by Scandinavian folklore (especially on trolls and gnomes), so any of those countries would be great to see, but first would be Norway. Second to that, I’ve always wanted to travel to London, which would connect with my interest in British literature. Also, I want to go back to Scotland [right] and climb the highest mountain, Ben Nevis!
Radiohead, '80s music, classic rock, and Leonard Cohen. When I’m working in the lab or on road trips, I listen to Scottish bagpipes, oddly soothing and reminds me of when I travelled through the Scottish highlands and the isle of Islay.
Ancient pathogen DNA is powerful and can tell us a lot about an important microbe that existed in the past, but there is uncertainty surrounding how that particular microbe impacted the relative health of a specific individual. So, for example, relating a molecular signature of Plasmodium falciparum malaria to cause of death is problematic because of differences in individual immunity and/or resistance. I also believe that ancient DNA as a technique, is strongest when integrated across diverse datasets to frame the context and lived experience of disease in the past.
When I was in high school, I was interested in forensic science and for a biology class project I recreated a crime scene and how it would be processed for evidence collection (e.g., fingerprints, blood patterns, tool marks) to ultimately piece together the crime itself.
My initial training in forensic science and forensic anthropology framed my approach to exploring research questions as pieces of a puzzle. In that sense, as a researcher I recognize the usefulness of my persistent curiosity (and slight stubbornness) in taking a risk on a particular question, since it can be rewarding (regardless of the outcome). The difficult part of research is knowing when a project is as close to completion as it will get even if it is somewhat imperfect, which is something I learned during my PhD.
What do you like/dislike about your research?
Ancient DNA molecules are broken up into tiny pieces! It’s part of the fun when I’m trying to see if a particular pathogen/microbe is present, but it’s also a challenge because the absence of a particular molecular signature does not mean it wasn’t historically present. That’s part of the reason why an interconnected approach drawing from collaboration with experts in history, archaeology, and bioarchaeology (and other fields!) complements an ancient DNA strategy.
The freedom to pursue and develop my own research trajectory is exciting, as well as being able to work alongside dynamic colleagues. The further I progress on this career path, work-life balance remains a priority for me, and requires a more active approach to ensure that happens.
I try to live by what Dale Cooper (from the show Twin Peaks) said –
“Every day, once a day, give yourself a present”, so I like to make time to focus on something I’m interested in.
I’m particularly fascinated with the study of classical and medieval history from written texts. It would be interesting to be able to read and evaluate ancient texts from classical antiquity, particularly Greece and Rome.
Black coffee! As well as some relaxing music (zen garden music or bagpipes), and I make sure to take breaks, like going out for a walk, to refresh my thinking.
I hope to keep pursuing interesting research questions, and that the work I do can provide a meaningful contribution. I also aim to enhance the teaching/scientific communication aspects of my research, to be able to connect with more people (within and beyond academia). Aside from my scientific career, I would like to have farmland for rescued animals (goats, mini-donkeys, llamas, pigs) – which would be a great approach to work-life balance!