In a world first an international team of researchers, led by Dr Michael Bunce of Murdoch University, have successfully isolated ancient DNA from fossil eggshell remains of extinct birds.
"We were really surprised to discover that ancient DNA is well-preserved in fossil eggshells, particularly the heaviest bird to have existed the elephant bird called Aepyornis, which is now extinct," said Murdoch doctoral student Charlotte Oskam, who undertook the research.
"Researchers have tried unsuccessfully to isolate DNA from fossil eggshell for years -- it just turned out that they were using a method designed for bone that was not suitable for fossil eggshell."
The new study published this week in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B describes how DNA up to 19,000 years old is an excellent source of ancient DNA especially in warmer climates such as Australia.
Fossil eggshells are frequently recovered from deposits across the globe and have been extensively used as a tool for radiocarbon dating and as a proxy to study past environments.
Now, thanks to this new study, a DNA profile will be added to these datasets.
The ancient DNA research team now plans to study eggshell from a number of archaeological sites in New Zealand to investigate how humans interacted with another giant bird, the moa, which went extinct nearly 600 years ago due to hunting pressures.
- Charlotte L. Oskam, James Haile, Emma Mclay, Paul Rigby, Morten E. Allentoft, Maia E. Olsen, Camilla Bengtsson, Gifford H. Miller, Jean-Luc Schwenninger, Chris Jacomb, Richard Walter, Alexander Baynes, Joe Dortch, Michael Parker-Pearson, M. Thomas P. Gilbert, Richard N. Holdaway, Eske Willerslev, and Michael Bunce. Fossil avian eggshell preserves ancient DNA. Proc. R. Soc. B, March 10, 2010 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2009.2019
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