Forest Tundra on the Taymyr Peninsula between Dudinka and Norilsk near Kayerkan, Russia, taken in 2016. Was it always look like this? Should it look like this?
Image Credit: Ninaras, CC BY 4.0, Image Cropped
Although obtaining ancient DNA can be quite a headache, it is a very rewarding headache. After all the work that goes into obtaining DNA from a bone, fur, hair, or Viking’s leftover meal, researchers have to make sense of the apparent random sequence of nucleotide bases. But once that’s taken care of, there are a series of really interesting questions we can start to answer. Were DNA strands that are present in the modern times inherited from the past? How similar are today’s species to their forebears? Where is my pet velociraptor?
Ancient DNA can teach us a great deal about prehistoric life. So why is it so troublesome? (Image Credit: Flying Puffin, CC BY-SA 2.0)
When we’ve talked about type specimens on Ecology for the Masses, we‘ve spent a lot of time emphasising how important it is to preserve them. Bottom line is, if they get destroyed, there are a lot of really important biological questions that become very difficult to answer.
Thankfully, landmark leaps in technology have made it possible to extract DNA from those specimens and store them in a public repository (e.g. the NCBI nucleotide database). So then even if a specimen is lost, the DNA would still be there and could be compared to that of other specimens to figure out if it’s the same species. Sounds like a clever and straightforward thing to do, but as always, it’s more complicated in reality.