What caused the extinction of the mammoth while other ice age mammals like the musk ox just barely survived to present day. A new scientific methodological approach to detect genetic material will help researchers to solve the many mysteries of the past.
"I’m confident that the new methodological approach, will be of great importance to molecular biology", says Professor Eske Willerslev at the Centre for Ancient Genetics, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. One of his PhD students recently came up with a brilliant idea. What usually has taken the DNA-researchers several years of laboratory work can now be done in just a few hours thanks to this breakthrough enabling researchers to get a full view of total ecosystems or populations dating thousands of years back in time.
The automation of a long research process
Professor Eske Willerslev and his team find DNA traces of ancient life for their research in areas where the ground is permanently frozen like in Siberia or Alaska. Here, inside the frozen ground, traces of ancient DNA are preserved and by bringing back earth samples drilled from the permafrost of Siberia and Canada, the team is able to find ancient DNA material from the animals and the plants that used to live in the area thousands of years ago. In order to detect the types of DNA material in a sample, the researchers are normally using a DNA primer - a kind of 'fishing hook' attaching itself to a specific piece of the DNA. That particular piece of DNA is then being multiplied, cloned and sequenced, which makes it possible to be identified by the researchers. However, this present procedure is slow, and it takes years just to identify a fraction of the most common animals and plants available from the DNA in the many samples.
A new sequencing machine (454 parallel sequencing, GS20, Roche/454 Life Sciences) capable of interpreting millions of pieces of DNA in just a few hours was recently introduced. The machine alone brought in a revolution to the field, but have certain disadvantages and shortcomings. Firstly, an analysis made by the machine is quite expensive. Each analysis costs approximately DKK 45 000 (equivalent to $ 7 500) and although the machine reads extensive amounts of DNA material, the cost is still considerable to a research project. Secondly, a vital problem arises when researchers try to benefit from the machine's enormous capacity by analyzing samples from multiple locations or specimens in a single run in order to reduce costs. The machine simply cannot separate more than 16 samples from each other.
Eske Willerslev went to check out the machine for himself at the Danish Cattle Research Centre in Foulum – the only place in Denmark, which operates the new sequencing machine. He realized to his great disappointment that the researchers at the University of Copenhagen could not make use of the machine for their respective projects due to the disadvantages mentioned above. Not being able to benefit from the technology available to make their work easier, faster and even much more efficient was naturally a major upset to his team
A simple but brilliant idea
Then Jonas Binladen, a PhD student from his team, came up with a simple but brilliant idea: By putting a 'finger-print' attached to the fishing hooks (tagged primers) used to amplify DNA from each sample, one should in theory be able to localize each of the million sequences produced in each run, to its original sample or specimen. By making it possible to process amplification products from multiple samples or specimens in the same run, the team could make use of the machine's great capacity.
The research team now wanted to test the idea. And it really did work! Amplification product marked with a particular tag during the traditional amplification step where dispatched to the centre in Foulum for a run on their 454 machine. When receiving the great news, Jonas Binladen remembers: "I was extremely happy, but actually not that surprised. I was in a way certain, that it would work out".
The results are now being published in the scientific web magazine PLoS ONE Publication.
According to Eske Willerslev, the new approach discovered by the team at the Centre for Ancient Genetics have great scientific potentials:
"Today, when using conventional methods to detect ancient DNA, we are only able to carry out a limited number of samples providing us with a somewhat random image of life in the past. This new approach helps us to give more complete and accurate performances in research. By combining information about the species of animals with the vegetation of the area, we are able to find out more about the climate and the ecosystem through different periods of time and see the changes. As a result, our knowledge will be put into a whole new perspective. For instance, finding out if species became endangered due to a dramatic change in the climate or if the decline in numbers started many years earlier than we originally thought or estimated," he says.
Eske Willerslev also hopes to find answers to the many mysteries of nature in ancient times.
Gertie Skaarup | EurekAlert!
First time-lapse footage of cell activity during limb regeneration
25.10.2016 | eLife
Phenotype at the push of a button
25.10.2016 | Institut für Pflanzenbiochemie
Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion
Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.
In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences
25.10.2016 | Life Sciences
25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences