Isolating and sequencing DNA from ancient samples is a highly specialized field of research that easily captures the imagination. For me it started in the early 90’s when I read about researchers using PCR (a relatively new technique at the time) to amplify, and subsequently sequence, the mitochondrial DNA of an extinct subspecies of zebra using a sample collected from a skin rug found at an estate in England.
From samples a few hundred years old to ones that are thousands of years old, scientists have made good use of technological advances to push back the boundaries of time. In this video from Science, Evolutionary Biologist Beth Shapiro talks about working with ancient DNA, and how new advances such as Next Generation Sequencing have made it possible to gather more information from ancient samples.
Science put together a Special Issue focused entirely on the research surrounding ancient DNA. You can find all the articles in this Special Issue here:
What do Swedish war booty, the Frombork Cathedral in Poland, and Napoleon all have in common? Answer: Nicolaus Copernicus. While much is known about the cleric and astronomer, the location of his burial site and the identity of his possible remains were cloaked in mystery. Over the last 200 years, many have searched for Copernicus’s grave including Napoleon in 1807. While it is known the astronomer was buried at Frombork Cathedral in 1543, there are over 100 unmarked tombs; as a result, searchers have walked away frustrated and empty handed. Continue reading →