The never-ending story of geologically ancient DNA: was the model plant Arabidopsis the source of Miocene Dominican amber?



Studies characterizing geologically ancient DNA in plants are rare, and all have reportedly obtained plastid DNA sequences from Miocene fossils in a remarkable state of preservation. Recently, a group made the extraordinary claim of having amplified a geologically ancient Miocene plastid DNA fragment (the rbcL gene) from Dominican amber nuggets, and the organismal source of this DNA was identified as Hymenaea protera (Fabaceae), the plant that produced the fossilized Dominican amber. Assuming that the Miocene sequence is error-free, reanalysis of the sequence indicates it is probably a technical artifact or an rbcL pseudogene. Furthermore, BLAST similarity searches and phylogenetic analyses strongly suggest that the putative Miocene sequence retrieved from fossilized amber is in fact a modern contaminant from one of the most widely used model plants, Arabidopsis thaliana. © 2013 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2014, 111, 234–240.