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J Biomol Tech. 2007 February; 18(1): 81–82.
PMCID: PMC2291935

SP8 Sequencing Extinct Genomes


Nucleic acids, which hold clues to the evolution of various animal and hominid taxa, are comparatively weak molecules from other cellular debris, and thus evolutionary biologists are in essence time trapped. Fortunately, DNA and protein fragments do exist in fossil remains beyond what theoretical experimentation would suggest. Sequestering of DNA molecules in humic or Maillard-like complexes likely represents a rich source of DNA molecules from the past, which have yet to be tapped. These molecules were impossible to acquire due to the selective nature of the polymerase chain reaction. Recently, however, rapid parallel pyrosequencing techniques, such as those used in metagenomics-based research, which, in theory, allow for the identification of all short nucleotide sequences in a sample in a non-selective approach, have the potential to allow the identification of all nucleic acids in a sample, and thus represent the way forward for ancient DNA. In theory, this new technology will allow the completion of genomes of extinct animals, plants, and microbes. I will discuss the benefits and pitfalls of this metagenomics approach to ancient DNA, highlighting our recent efforts underway to sequence the wooly mammoth genome as well as other fossil remains.

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