Extracting DNA from museum pieces to reveal secrets

Posted Feb 6, 2020 by Tim Sandle
Advances in molecular biology are making it possible for DNA to be extracted from museum objects to reveal more information about the history and origin of different pieces, including some that have confounded scientists for decades.
File photo: The power of the genetic code: DNA recovered from fluids is now standard evidence in cri...
File photo: The power of the genetic code: DNA recovered from fluids is now standard evidence in crime cases
The DNA examination has been advanced through the development of new techniques and technologies. As an example, researchers from Flinders University have demonstrated that DNA proteins, extracted using a vortex fluidic device (VFD), can provide new insights into an array of extinct and ancient museum specimens.
Vortex fluidic technology concerns the application of thin films flow chemical processes that can be used for a wide range of industrial and laboratory applications. The technology involves harnessing high shear forces, micro mixing and reactions into extract or to purify samples.
As an example of applying the technology to museum specimens, the research team behind the new study used a vortex fluidic device to accelerate DNA extraction from an American lobster. The crustacean had been preserved in formaldehyde, and had been stored away in a museum for decades (estimated at around 150 years). the experimental data highlights how the technique can help to offer a biological roadmap to examine DNA from millions of species held in museums worldwide.
One of the research team members, Jessica Phillips notes that processing the preserved tissue from museum specimens via vortex fluidic device speedily deconstructs proteins, which releases DNA. This provides valuable historical genetic information for further analysis.
Phillips says in an interview conducted by her university: "DNA extraction is achieved by processing the preserved tissue in an enzyme solution in the VFD. This enzyme breaks apart the proteins, releasing the DNA which can be analysed. By using the VFD we are able to accelerate this process from days to hours."
The initial study paves the way for more in-depth research about applying the technology and with it, unlocking the mysteries of many ancient museum biological specimens, including species that have now become extinct.
The research has been published in the journal PLOS One, with the research paper titled "Vortex fluidics-mediated DNA rescue from formalin-fixed museum specimens."