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J Mol Evol. 1990 Aug;31(2):101-12.

Spatial and temporal continuity of kangaroo rat populations shown by sequencing mitochondrial DNA from museum specimens.

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  • 1Division of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of California, Berkeley 94720.


The advent of direct sequencing via the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) has opened up the possibility of molecular studies on museum specimens. Here we analyze genetic variation in populations over time by applying PCR to DNA extracted from museum specimens sampled from populations of one species over the last 78 years. Included in this study were 43 museum specimens of the Panamint kangaroo rat Dipodomys panamintinus from localities representing each of three geographically distinct subspecies. These specimens were originally collected and prepared as dried skins in 1911, 1917, or 1937. For each specimen, a 225-bp segment of the mitochondrial genome was sequenced. These mitochondrial DNA sequences were compared to those of 63 specimens collected at the same localities in 1988. The three subspecies were nearly completely distinct. Only 2 of the 106 individuals shared mitochondrial types between subspecies. For all three localities, the diversity levels were maintained between the two temporal samples. The concordance observed between the two temporally separate phylogenies supports the use of museum specimens for phylogenetic inference. This study demonstrates the accuracy and routine nature of the use of museum specimens in the analysis of mitochondrial sequence variation in natural populations and, importantly, that a temporal aspect can now be added to such studies.

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