Moa birds disappeared from New Zealand following the arrival of human settlers in the 13th century, but their fossils now provide us with a valuable clues about long-term DNA survival and how DNA decays over thousands of years.
In a paper published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, we show that fragments of DNA from these extinct, flightless birds can be used to estimate how DNA decays over time. The findings have implications in choosing where to look for DNA-containing fossils and in forensic casework involving bones.
Sadly, the findings won’t satisfy those people wanting us to talk about dinosaur DNA. When telling someone our day-job involves working with ancient DNA (aDNA), more often than not, the response is: “Ahhhh, you mean like Jurassic Park?”.
Then we explain how resurrecting the dinosaurs is not possible and that the early papers describing isolation of dinosaur DNA were likely based on a combination of contaminating human and chicken DNA.