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Differential nuclear and mitochondrial DNA preservation in post-mortem teeth with implications for forensic and ancient DNA studies

Differential nuclear and mitochondrial DNA preservation in post-mortem teeth with implications for forensic and ancient DNA studies

Plos one 10(5): E0126935

Major advances in genetic analysis of skeletal remains have been made over the last decade, primarily due to improvements in post-DNA-extraction techniques. Despite this, a key challenge for DNA analysis of skeletal remains is the limited yield of DNA recovered from these poorly preserved samples. Enhanced DNA recovery by improved sampling and extraction techniques would allow further advancements. However, little is known about the post-mortem kinetics of DNA degradation and whether the rate of degradation varies between nuclear and mitochondrial DNA or across different skeletal tissues. This knowledge, along with information regarding ante-mortem DNA distribution within skeletal elements, would inform sampling protocols facilitating development of improved extraction processes. Here we present a combined genetic and histological examination of DNA content and rates of DNA degradation in the different tooth tissues of 150 human molars over short-medium post-mortem intervals. DNA was extracted from coronal dentine, root dentine, cementum and pulp of 114 teeth via a silica column method and the remaining 36 teeth were examined histologically. Real time quantification assays based on two nuclear DNA fragments (67 bp and 156 bp) and one mitochondrial DNA fragment (77 bp) showed nuclear and mitochondrial DNA degraded exponentially, but at different rates, depending on post-mortem interval and soil temperature. In contrast to previous studies, we identified differential survival of nuclear and mtDNA in different tooth tissues. Furthermore histological examination showed pulp and dentine were rapidly affected by loss of structural integrity, and pulp was completely destroyed in a relatively short time period. Conversely, cementum showed little structural change over the same time period. Finally, we confirm that targeted sampling of cementum from teeth buried for up to 16 months can provide a reliable source of nuclear DNA for STR-based genotyping using standard extraction methods, without the need for specialised equipment or large-volume demineralisation steps.

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Accession: 057623463

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PMID: 25992635

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0126935

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