OCT 08, 2018 3:50 PM PDT

Harvesting Ancient DNA Samples

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

The story of an ancient insect that found itself trapped in amber is not a new one, and while many people know it as part of the Jurassic Park movie franchise, scientists have tried it. In 1993, researchers recovered the body of a weevil from its amber tomb, and they extracted what they thought was a sample of its DNA. 

Many ancient genetic samples have been successfully recovered in different ways, including from museum specimens. The work isn’t always easy, but researchers have used them to learn more about animals that are now extinct.

Amber also happens to make a good preservative, preserving a trapped organism and dehydrating its DNA, all in an antimicrobial suspension. That dehydration is important; it turns out that water molecules can damage DNA over time. In living cells that damage can be repaired, but when that DNA is in a dead organism, those mechanisms aren’t at work. That’s when investigators have to hope that samples they’re recovering have been kept in the right conditions. Learn more from the video.

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
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