Beyond Jurassic Park: Real Science With Ancient DNA

November 16, 1998

St. Paul, MN (November 16, 1998) -- Bees, trapped for millions of years in ancient amber, recreated by scientists using the perfectly preserved DNA. The stuff of science fiction thrillers? Yes and no. The entire creature can't be recreated. However, bacteria extracted from the abdomen of these long-dead bees has, for the first time ever, been successfully brought back to life.

Dr. Raul Cano, of the California Polytechnic State University, a pioneer in analyzing ancient DNA from ancient organisms, has revived bacteria from the gut of bees preserved in 20-45 million year old amber from the Dominican Republic. The genetic makeup of these bacterial strains holds many possibilities, according to Cano. "We have discovered a brand new source of organisms that could produce life-saving pharmaceuticals or be used in valuable industrial processes," he says.

Research on preserved plant specimens from the last few centuries is also underway. Dr. Craig Liddell, now with Paradigm Genetics, worked with colleagues at New Mexico State University sifting through herbarium (dried plant) specimens collected since 1891 to identify those with a specific rust disease, caused by the fungus Puccinia grindeliae. Examining this century old fungus and analyzing its genetic evolution could help identify potential biocontrol uses for eradicating the rangeland weed it infects.

"We are primarily concerned with genetic changes that have occurred in populations of organisms during the past tens or hundreds of years up to the present," says Dr. Kevin McCluskey, University of Kansas Medical Center. "Fortunately, these studies are not as difficult as looking at ancient bacteria in amber." McCluskey and Dr. Margaret Thayer of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois moderated a symposium titled, "Beyond Jurassic Park: Accessing Genetic Information Hidden in Herbaria and Archival Plant, Microbe and Insect Specimens," during a joint meeting of the American Phytopathological Society and the Entomological Society of America, November 8-12, at the Las Vegas Hilton, Las Vegas, Nevada.

To view a feature article on this symposium and learn about some of the other scientists studying this fascinating subject, visit the American Phytopathological Society website at during the month of November.

The American Phytopathological Society (APS) is a professional scientific organization dedicated to the study and control of plant disease with 5,000 members worldwide.

American Phytopathological Society

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