Contrary to the movie Jurassic Park, in which scientists recreate dinosaurs from ancient DNA, genetic material more than about 50 thousand years old cannot be reliably recovered. Nevertheless, a team of scientists has now demonstrated that computers could be used to reconstruct with 98 percent accuracy the DNA of a creature that lived at the time of the dinosaurs more than 75 million years ago--a small, furry nocturnal animal that was the common ancestor of all placental mammals, including humans.
Knowing this ancestral mammal’s complete genome--the sequence of As, Cs, Ts, and Gs in the DNA that made up its chromosomes--would not mean that scientists could bring it to life. (For one thing, synthesizing that much DNA would be prohibitively expensive and technically difficult.)
But that’s not the point. The point is to understand the evolution of humans and other mammals at the molecular level, said David Haussler, professor of biomolecular engineering at the University of California, Santa Cruz. "We will be able to trace the molecular evolution of our genome over the past 75 million years. It’s a very exciting new way to think about our origins, a kind of DNA-based archaeology to understand how we came to be," said Haussler, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator and director of UCSC’s Center for Biomolecular Science and Engineering.
Tim Stephens | EurekAlert!
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