‘Hair is a better source of ancient DNA than bone or muscle, a new study involving woolly mammoth hair suggests.
“The main problem with things like bone is that it contains real DNA from the source, but also a load of DNA that is undesirable,” said study team member Tom Gilbert of the University of Copenhagen. “For example, when a mammoth dies and the body starts putrefying, bacteria gets all throughout the body. Later, as it’s buried in the ground, soil bacteria get into it.”
Contamination from bacteria DNA generally make up 50 to more than 90 percent of the raw DNA extracted from the bone and muscles of ancient specimens, Gilbert said. In contrast, more than 90 percent of the DNA extracted from hairs taken from woolly mammoth specimens in the new study belonged to the extinct mega-mammals themselves.
“The quality of the DNA was fantastic,” Gilbert told LiveScience. “It was way better than we ever imagined. There’s both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA in there.”‘