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Pack Rat Nests Offer First Look at Ancient Insect DNA

Pack Rat Nests Offer First Look at Ancient Insect DNA

Middens give scientists the opportunity to sequence the DNA of ancient insects trapped inside, courtesy of Julio Betancourt.

For many years, scientists have been extracting DNA from the bones of ancient humans, humanoids, and animals to paint a picture of evolution and species movement. They have had little success extracting genetic material from the preserved remains of insects.

Insects leave scant DNA behind, and little of it is preserved over time. However, a Purdue University scientist has developed a novel way to use extraction methods previously reserved for ancient vertebrate DNA to isolate and amplify insect DNA, thanks to the urine-caked nests of ancient desert pack rats.

The technique is giving scientists their first glimpses of the genetic makeup of insects from more than 34,000 years ago. Aaron Smith, the lead author of the paper describing the work, received support from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. For more information, read this Purdue University article.

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