Dinosaur dreams dashed

D. Penney

Fans of Jurassic Park may be disappointed (or possibly relieved) to learn that you can’t get ancient DNA from amber. Insects trapped in amber may look perfectly preserved, but their DNA doesn’t hold up well, David Penney of the University of Manchester in England and colleagues report September 11 in PLOS ONE. The team tried, and failed, to extract and sequence DNA from two stingless bees (one shown above) embedded in copal, a substance that forms as plant resin becomes amber. One bee was more than 10,000 years old, the other less than 60 years old. Previously, other researchers claimed to have deciphered DNA from insects trapped in amber more than 100 million years ago. Those researchers probably detected modern insect DNA contaminating ancient specimens, Penney and his colleagues say.

Tina Hesman Saey is the senior staff writer and reports on molecular biology. She has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree in science journalism from Boston University.

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