In a paper from last week's PLoS One (also highlighted in today's Science Times), Thomsen et al. describe a method that may be used to extract DNA from insect specimens collected as far back as 188 years ago. Remarkably, this method also avoids destruction of the pinned insect (see photo - this beetle is post-extraction). Twenty of twenty museum specimens examined yielded good, if short (~200 bp), sequences from mitochondrial genes. There was also some limited success on insects that were even older from non-frozen conditions. One big caveat is that all of their tests were done on beetles, which obviously are some of the most durable of insects, but it was nonetheless exciting. Although they didn't test this, sounds like their DNA might also have been useful for other short fragments, i.e. microsatellites - opening up doors for tracking lots of interesting population biology of insects, including pests and maybe even vectors. Suddenly those cabinets and cabinets of pinned insects I'm surrounded by seem all the more interesting!
Dechronization is authored by evolutionary biologists interested in the development and application of methods for estimating phylogeny and making phylogeny-based inferences. The goal of the blog is to provide a forum for discussion of the latest research and methods, while also providing anecdotes, tidbits of natural history, and other related information.