I am fascinated by how DNA is present in every known organism, especially in archival specimens. Using specific regions in the genome to compare and establish phylogenetic relationships between the living and the dead shows us that this code of life can help us travel back in time. Wikipedia suggests that the extinct Giant beaver (Castoroides ohioensis) is not a close relative of the modern day beaver (genus Castor). But there is currently no genetic evidence supporting this statement.
I am excited to work with the Giant Beaver specimens we have at the Joseph Moore Museum and extract DNA sequences from them in the ancient DNA lab in the basement (we will be drilling a hole through its skull to extract DNA!!). We are still in the process of designing primers for the PCR, which will help us amplify regions of interests. Rachel and I, under the supervision of museum director Heather Lerner, have been downloading gene sequences from modern beavers and other rodents and designing primers on our computers. We got our ancient DNA lab supplies delivered yesterday. I am interested in getting hands on experience in the lab. As we will be working with old DNA samples, we need to be really careful about contamination. This process requires a lot of control and care—and I can’t wait to get started!
Contributed by Sonia Sandeep Kabra