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Genomics reveals the origins of ancient specimens

By Qian Cong, Jinhui Shen, Jing Zhang, Wenlin Li, Lisa N. Kinch, John V Calhoun, Andrew D. Warren, Nick V. Grishin

Posted 04 Sep 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/752121

Centuries of zoological studies amassed billions of specimens in collections worldwide. Genomics of these specimens promises to rejuvenate biodiversity research. The obstacles stem from DNA degradation with specimen age. Overcoming this challenge, we set out to resolve a series of long-standing controversies involving a group of butterflies. We deduced geographical origins of several ancient specimens of uncertain provenance that are at the heart of these debates. Here, genomics tackles one of the greatest problems in zoology: countless old, poorly documented specimens that serve as irreplaceable embodiments of species concepts. The ability to figure out where they were collected will resolve many on-going disputes. More broadly, we show the utility of genomics applied to ancient museum specimens to delineate the boundaries of species and populations, and to hypothesize about genotypic determinants of phenotypic traits.

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