DNA gives new perspectives to understand the mysteries of nature

Scientific breakthrough: What caused the extinction of the woolly rhinoceros ten thousand years ago from an area in Europe covering the coasts of the Arctic Ocean in the north to the coasts of the Mediterranean in the south? What caused the extinction of the mammoth while other ice age mammals like the musk ox just barely survived to present day. A new scientific methodological approach to detect genetic material will help researchers to solve the many mysteries of the past.

"Im confident that the new methodological approach, will be of great importance to molecular biology", says Professor Eske Willerslev at the Centre for Ancient Genetics, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. One of his PhD students recently came up with a brilliant idea. What usually has taken the DNA-researchers several years of laboratory work can now be done in just a few hours thanks to this breakthrough enabling researchers to get a full view of total ecosystems or populations dating thousands of years back in time.

The automation of a long research process

Professor Eske Willerslev and his team find DNA traces of ancient life for their research in areas where the ground is permanently frozen like in Siberia or Alaska. Here, inside the frozen ground, traces of ancient DNA are preserved and by bringing back earth samples drilled from the permafrost of Siberia and Canada, the team is able to find ancient DNA material from the animals and the plants that used to live in the area thousands of years ago. In order to detect the types of DNA material in a sample, the researchers are normally using a DNA primer - a kind of 'fishing hook' attaching itself to a specific piece of the DNA. That particular piece of DNA is then being multiplied, cloned and sequenced, which makes it possible to be identified by the researchers. However, this present procedure is slow, and it takes years just to identify a fraction of the most common animals and plants available from the D

Contact: Gertie Skaarup
University of Copenhagen

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