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FEATURE ARTICLE

Ancient DNA

The tools of molecular biology can be used to peer into an organism's genetic future--or its distant past

George Poinar, Jr.

Most people have focused on the way new molecular technologies foretell our genetic futures. But some scientists are using the techniques of gene amplification and sequencing to understand biological events that took place long ago. These scientists are decoding DNA that has been remarkably preserved for tens and possibly even hundreds of thousands of years. Such studies allow scientists to fill in missing links on phylogenetic trees and identify the remains of organisms long extinct. The author describes several such instances as well as cautions against some of the pitfalls of current techniques used to decipher ancient DNA.


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