Geneticists to drill 18,000-year-old 'hobbit' tooth to extract DNA

London, Jan 6 (ANI): In the hope of extracting DNA samples, a team of geneticists will analyse a roughly 18,000-year-old tooth that belongs to 'hobbit' Homo floresiensis, 1-metre-tall extinct distant relative of modern humans that was found in Indonesia.

Geneticists at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) at the University of Adelaide will drill the tooth that was excavated in 2009 from the Liang Bua site on the Indonesian island of Flores, reports Nature.

According to Tony Djubiantono, director of the Indonesian National Centre for Archaeology in Jakarta, if the process is successful, comparing its sequence to that of other species could settle disputes over classification.

Christina Adler, a geneticist at ACAD, and her team found that the conventional method of drilling teeth at speeds of more than 1,000 revolutions per minute (RPM) to sample teeth and bone destroys DNA thanks to the heat that is generated.

However, a speed of up to 100 RPM alleviated the problem.

The ACAD scientists also found that cementum, the coating of the root, was a richer source of DNA.

Matthew Collins, a specialist in ancient-protein analysis who is based at the University of York, UK, says that Adler's team's results will "help to ensure that we minimize the destruction of molecules during sampling of precious fossils, and potentially enable us to reach even further back in time to recover sequence information".

However, he believes the chances of extracting DNA successfully out of the tooth are not great because the molecules are probably too fragmented owing to high temperatures at the excavation site.

The ACAD scientists are nevertheless prepared to give it a shot. They have been encouraged by their successful extraction of DNA from a 6,000-year-old pig tooth from the site in 2007.

The results will appear in the Journal of Archaeological Science. (ANI)

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