Monday, December 15, 2014

Book biology

Researchers at Trinity College Dublin and the University of York have just tapped a new resource for tracing the breding history of sheep and other livestock over time. By analyzing DNA and collagen obtained from the parchment of books printed in the 17th and 18th centuries, scientists can establish the type of animals from which the parchment was made, compare their genomes with modern equivalents, and reveal how animal husbandry shaped their genetic diversity. Now vital historical information comes not only from the text, but the material on which it is written – provided librarians are willing to part with a .79" square (2x2cm) sample of a page. Geneticist Daniel Bradley of Trinity College Dublin remarks, “This pilot project suggests that parchments are an amazing resource for genetic studies that consider agricultural development over the centuries. There must be millions stored away in libraries, archives, solicitors’ offices and even in our own attics. After all, parchment was the writing material of choice for thousands of years, going back to the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

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