Thursday, September 06, 2007

Ancient Human DNA Extracted From Yucca Leaves Spat Out
In a groundbreaking study, two Harvard scientists have for the first time extracted human DNA from ancient artifacts. The work potentially opens up a new universe of sources for ancient genetic material, which is used to map human migrations in prehistoric times.

Before this, archaeologists could only get ancient DNA from relics of the human body itself, including prehistoric teeth, bones, fossilized feces, or — rarely — preserved flesh. Such sources of DNA are hard to find, poorly preserved, or unavailable because of cultural and legal barriers.

By contrast, the genetic material used in the Harvard study came from two types of artifacts — 800 to 2,400 years old — that are found by the hundreds at archaeological sites in the American Southwest.

“Quids” — small fibrous bundles of stripped yucca leaves — are the spit-out remnants of a kind of ancient chewing gum. Cells from long-dried saliva yield usable DNA. And “aprons” were thong-like woven garments worn by women. They are stained with traces of apparent menstrual blood, a source of DNA.

Which is very neat.