Special part of Phar Lap’s tooth used for DNA project

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Te Papa Conservator Robert Clendon removes Phar Lap’s skull from the rest of the skeleton, before extracting one of the incisor teeth.
Te Papa Conservator Robert Clendon removes Phar Lap’s skull from the rest of the skeleton, before extracting one of the incisor teeth. © Jean-Claude Stahl/Te Papa

Australian researchers seeking to unravel Phar Lap’s genetics will use a specific part of the horse’s tooth to sequence his DNA.

Te Papa’s genetics researcher Lara Shepherd uses a dremel to cut a piece from the bottom of an incisor tooth.
Te Papa’s genetics researcher Lara Shepherd uses a dremel to cut a piece from the bottom of an incisor tooth. © Jean-Claude Stahl/Te Papa

Writing in its blog, Te Papa said DNA was often better preserved in teeth compared with other parts of the skeleton.

A team from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Veterinary Science has taken on the project, and will use a 60mg piece of Phar Lap’s tooth to unravel his genetics.

The DNA extraction from Phar Lap’s tooth will be performed at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD), at the University of Adelaide, before being analysed at the University of Sydney, out of “scientific curiosity”, team leader Dr Natasha Hamilton said.

Te Papa Conservator Robert Clendon had to remove Phar Lap’s skull from the rest of his skeleton, before extracting one of his incisor teeth.

Then, Te Papa’s genetics researcher Lara Shepherd used a dremel to cut a piece from the bottom of the tooth. The incisor sits deeply within the jaw, so the cut is not visible when the tooth is replaced. The piece removed has been sent to the  researchers in Australia, who will attempt to extract DNA from it.

Te Papa said DNA has been successfully extracted from other long-dead specimens in its natural history collection, including moa and other recently extinct animals.

“The use of so-called ‘ancient DNA’ methodologies has become increasingly commonplace, as it provides another tool to investigate the biodiversity treasure trove represented by natural history collections.  Te Papa itself is moving towards having its own ancient DNA facilities,” the museum said.

 

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