Final Abstract for URS Program
Investigations into aDNA offer a window into the past that modern DNA and paleontological studies alone cannot provide and help address the evolution and connections between hominids, domestication timelines, the analysis of populations over time, and general diversity. Progress in aDNA research has been inherently technology-driven, with modern molecular biology methods, such as the inventions of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) and Next Generation Sequencing (NGS), substantially increasing the analysis possibilities of aDNA. My research this semester has taken me along two parallel paths of investigation: literary research into aDNA and practical exposure to the laboratory techniques used in its analysis. My work in the lab exposed me to the utilization of PCR as a technique to amplify DNA regions that permits a doubling of the number of target molecules with each cycle. The PCR process is essential for studying aDNA samples since the DNA found on site is limited in quantity and quality. Under favorable conditions, DNA has survived for several millennia, though the length of time varies considerably between preservation environments. Its degradation and post-mortem chemical alterations make its quantification and amplification difficult. The major bottleneck in its research lies in DNA extraction from low-quality and quantity samples and contamination by exogenous current DNA. My practical lab experience was in the extraction process, PCR amplification of the pieces, and analysis with agarose gel electrophoresis using a plant-based system. I experienced firsthand the problems researchers encounter with PCR, such as insufficient amplification with a low amount of template, incomplete or incorrect amplification due to contaminants, and excessive smearing. Using parallel lines of evidence, such as aDNA studies and the fossil record, will aid us in new understandings concerning evolutionary history.