Saturday, March 13, 2010

DNA from Fossil Eggshells

One item that I did not see in time for yesterday's Loose Feathers post is the news that scientists have isolated DNA from the fossilized eggshells of extinct elephant birds.
"We were really surprised to discover that ancient DNA is well-preserved in fossil eggshells, particularly the heaviest bird to have existed the elephant bird called Aepyornis, which is now extinct," said Murdoch doctoral student Charlotte Oskam, who undertook the research.

"Researchers have tried unsuccessfully to isolate DNA from fossil eggshell for years -- it just turned out that they were using a method designed for bone that was not suitable for fossil eggshell."

The new study published this week in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B describes how DNA up to 19,000 years old is an excellent source of ancient DNA especially in warmer climates such as Australia.
The research team hopes to use the same methods for ancient moa eggshells to study how humans and moas interacted. Extracting DNA from fossil remains could probably clarify some taxonomic relationships as well.

If you wish to read about this study in more detail, you can read the paper for free on the Royal Society's website.