A team of UK scientists have said that it is virtually impossible to extract genetic information from fossils that have been preserved in amber, devastating the hopes of Jurassic Park enthusiasts. This follows experiments using highly sensitive sequencing techniques in the hope of detecting ancient DNA molecules in fossilized insects.
Head of the group of scientists was David Penney, a PhD biologist from the University of Manchester, who said “Because these fossils were captured in amber, there was a possibility that their DNA might resist degradation and be available to extract. Unfortunately, we’ve shown that this is not the case.”
The possibility of extracting DNA from fossils in amber has been debated for a number of years. Back in 1992, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, announced that they had successfully extracted gene fragments from a 40 million year old bee that had been preserved in amber. Dr George Poinar, who was head of the research team, very enthusiastically announced to the New York Times, “The blood may contain actual dinosaur DNA. That will be an exciting discovery.”
Other various claims have been called into question and as technology has improved DNA analysis techniques, it has been found that early findings are not all they claimed to be.
This new research only adds more fuel to the fire of skepticism. Penney explains that his team used a newer, more sensitive technique to analyse the amber fossils. A previous technique known as PCR amplification can lead to false positives, but Penney says the technique they used “sequences everything within a sample, and so will pick up even the smallest strands of DNA.”
The team applied the new technique to extract DNA from insects that were trapped in copal, which is a resin that has not fully hardened into amber. They were unable to detect any viable DNA, despite the fact that the samples were young (up to 10,600 years). Therefore the chances of finding DNA in older amber samples are vitually nil. “If we cannot pull DNA from copal, then we absolutely cannot do it from amber either,” Penney says. “So this would be the end of the road for these investigations.”
I must admit to being secretly glad that we won’t be seeing a T-Rex walk down the road any time soon!
[Image via Amber Company]