Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Hunt for the Oldest DNA

Sometimes the inspiration for a scientific breakthrough is an apple falling from a tree. Sometimes it's a race between a train and a light wave. And sometimes ...

Sometimes it's a dog pooping in the rain.

Sequencing DNA that's more than a million years old was thought to be impossible. And it was. Until it wasn't. Breaking that barrier is a story of scientific perseverance laced with frustration, anti-bullying vibes, and real consequences of failing to solve an as-yet insoluble problem. Success was never guaranteed, and it came at a price.

But what a story it is! Watch the program. If it's something that works with your curriculum, consider using the question set with students. It's written with them in mind: to keep them actively engaged without ever boring them. (And welcome to NOVA's 51st season!)

For decades, scientists have tried to unlock the secrets of ancient DNA. But life’s genetic blueprint is incredibly fragile, and researchers have struggled to find DNA in fossils that could survive millions of years. Then, one maverick scientist had the controversial idea to look for DNA not in fossils or frozen ancient tissue – but in dirt. Join the hunt as scientists decipher the oldest DNA ever found, and reveal for the first time the genes of long-extinct creatures that once thrived in a warm, lush Arctic.

Participants include Tom Gilbert, Ross Macphee, Mikkel Pedersen, Maanasa Raghavan, Maureen Raymo, Alexandra Rouillard, Natalia Rybczynski, Astrid Schmidt, Beth Shapiro, Niobe Thompson, and Eske Willerslev.

For more DNA content, see:

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