No ancient DNA in Insects Preserved in Amber

fossil-dominican-amber-insect-stinglees-bee-with-wasp-on-its-head-03151(cp)So the article Absence of Ancient DNA in Sub-Fossil Insect Inclusions Preserved in ‘Anthropocene’ Colombian Copal falls under the killjoy heading for everyone who saw and loved Jurassic Park as a kid. Although the title of the paper sounds complex, what the researchers did was  pretty simple. They took two bees preserved in copal (basically a younger version of amber), one from 10,000 years ago and the other from more recent times (post-world war II). Then they looked for ancient DNA using 454 sequencing. And they found zilch.

They conclude that if you can’t find decent DNA in a 20th century copal sample, it doesn’t seem possible that we will ever be able to obtain DNA from an ancient amber sample. This work is also another nail in the coffin of a series of studies that came out in the early days of ancient DNA research. They claimed to have sequenced ancient DNA from amber-preserved bee, termite, and weevil specimens, sometimes from hundreds of millions of years ago. A number of lines of evidence have now convinced scientists that these exciting findings were just due to contamination.

Well, bummer. But we’ve still managed to do some pretty impressive things with ancient DNA. We’ve sequenced the Neandertal and Denisovan genomes, for example.Who would have ever believed that was possible ten years ago?

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