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Ancient penguin DNA raises doubts about accuracy of genetic dating techniques
Date:11/10/2009

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Penguins that died 44,000 years ago in Antarctica have provided extraordinary frozen DNA samples that challenge the accuracy of traditional genetic aging measurements, and suggest those approaches have been routinely underestimating the age of many specimens by 200 to 600 percent.

In other words, a biological specimen determined by traditional DNA testing to be 100,000 years old may actually be 200,000 to 600,000 years old, researchers suggest in a new report in Trends in Genetics, a professional journal.

The findings raise doubts about the accuracy of many evolutionary rates based on conventional types of genetic analysis.

"Some earlier work based on small amounts of DNA indicated this same problem, but now we have more conclusive evidence based on the study of almost an entire mitochondrial genome," said Dee Denver, an evolutionary biologist with the Center for Genome Research and Biocomputing at Oregon State University.

"The observations in this report appear to be fundamental and should extend to most animal species," he added. "We believe that traditional DNA dating techniques are fundamentally flawed, and that the rates of evolution are in fact much faster than conventional technologies have led us to believe."

The findings, researchers say, are primarily a challenge to the techniques used to determine the age of a sample by genetic analysis alone, rather than by other observations about fossils. In particular, they may force a widespread re-examination of determinations about when one species split off from another, if that determination was based largely on genetic evidence.

For years, researchers have been using their understanding of the rates of genetic mutations in cells to help date ancient biological samples, and in what's called "phylogenetic comparison," used that information along with fossil evidence to determine the dates of fossils and the history of evolution. Th
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Contact: Dee Denver
denvedee@cgrb.oregonstate.edu
541-737-3698
Oregon State University
Source:Eurekalert

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