Scientists Successfully Extract DNA From Insects Embedded In Tree Resin
What are you first thoughts when you hear about insects trapped in amber? Is it DNA, dinosaurs and disastrous fictional theme parks?
If it is, then you may be excited to hear scientists have successfully extracted DNA from insects embedded in tree resin. You may also be surprised to know that it had never been done before, especially considering that Jurassic Park came out almost three decades ago.
But before you get excited, know that the insects in question don’t date back to ancient times. Instead, the samples used had been stored from between two to six years.
The successful efforts came from the collection of small ambrosia beetles trapped in the resin of Madagascan amber trees. Small creatures start to decay immediately in viscous substances like this; any DNA left behind is destroyed over time due to a reaction with the resin’s chemical compounds. As reported by Forbes, the genetic material extracted by the scientists was most fragile, and getting at it was no easy picnic.
The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is widely used as a way to ‘amplify’ small DNA samples, exposing reactants to repeated cycles of heating and cooling to enable different temperature-dependent reactions. This is already a delicate process, and it was through repeating the PCR-process multiple times that enough DNA was replicated in the highlighted study. This is due to substances found in resin inhibiting the chemical elements used in PCR.
Other methods used by the scientists included using ethanol to dissolve the resin containing the beetles, but a reaction between alcohol and the substance is another way DNA gets lost. It is thought this may be why previous efforts have failed – and why we have no dinosaurs running around yet.
How long DNA can survive inside the resin is still not clear. Water seems to be key, as the resin creates a fully waterproof barrier. This in turn keeps moisture in the insect tissue.
To find out more, researchers will apply the repeated PCR method to other insects that met a most sticky end. Working out the decay rate of DNA depends on analysing the preserved bugs from most recent to oldest.
Whether the info extracted could one day lead to us resurrecting dinosaurs is unlikely. After all, this kind of research is more about improving analysis of fossil DNA, as opposed to extracting the genetic material of extinct species for revivification purposes.
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