Weizmann Institute scientists recently discovered a new source of well-preserved ancient DNA in fossil bones. Their findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Fossil DNA is a potential source of information on the evolution, population dynamics, migrations, diets and diseases of animals and humans. But if it is not well preserved or becomes contaminated by modern DNA, the results are uninterpretable. The scientists, Prof. Stephen Weiner and Michal Salamon of the Institute's Structural Biology Department, working in collaboration with Profs. Baruch Arensburg of Tel Aviv University and Noreen Tuross of Harvard University, may have found a way to overcome these problems
In 1986, Weiner first reported the existence of crystal clusters in fresh bones. Now, 20 years later, the scientists have found that the crystal aggregates act as a "privileged niche in fossil bone," protecting the DNA from hostile environments and leaving it relatively undamaged over time. These findings hold much promise for obtaining more reliable and authentic results than has previously been possible from the analysis of ancient DNA in bones.
Prof. Stephen Weiner's research is supported by the Helen and Martin Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science; the Philip M. Klutznick Fund for Research; the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Foundation; the Women's Health Research Center; and Mr. George Schwartzman, Sarasota, FL. Prof. Weiner is the incumbent of the Dr. Walter and Dr. Trude Borchardt Professorial Chair in Structural Biology.