Researchers kick-start ancient DNA

  • Binghamton University researchers recently revived ancient bacteria trapped for thousands of years in water droplets embedded in salt crystals such as this one. Image credit: Univeristy of Binghamton
  • Coming soon to a zoo near you? Unlikely.
Date:29 November 2010 Author: Alan Duggan Tags:

I presume most of you have seen the movie Jurassic Park, in which a scientist recreates long-extinct (and very hungry) dinosaurs from ancient DNA. Although the script was pure fantasy, I thought you’d like to know that a pair of real scientists has just made a similarly impressive breakthrough, this time in the realm of the very small.

Professor Tim Lowenstein and colleague J Koji Lum, both researchers at Binghamton University in the US, have managed to revive bacteria trapped for thousands of years in water droplets – known as fluid inclusions – embedded in salt crystals. They range from thousands to hundreds of millions of years old.

Examining the inclusions under a microscope, the researchers not only found bacteria, but also several types of algae. Lum describes the inclusions as “little trapped ecosystems”, explaining: “Some of these guys are feeding on other ones trapped in this space.”

The samples are drawn from Death Valley and Saline Valley in California as well as from sites in Michigan, Kansas and Italy, where temperatures may have reached 54 degrees Celsius in the past. The pockets of water trapped inside the rocks are extremely salty, but against that, the bugs that survived there are pretty tough.

Does this suggest that we’re on the verge of cloning a T. Rex from dino DNA in the blood of a long-dead mosquito? Er, no. Is it possible that scientists have already produced an exact copy of a human, or perhaps even Arnold Schwarzenegger, without us knowing about it?

Is it possible? Don’t you read the newspapers?