Moa Eggshells Tell All
Scientists in New Zealand and Australia have extracted the DNA from the fossil eggshells of 3000-year-old moa. It is the first time that scientists have succeeded in extracting ancient DNA from the fossilised eggshells of a bird. Genetic material from New Zealand ducks, the Madagascan elephant bird, the heaviest bird that ever lived, was also recovered, along with DNA from Australian owls. By sequencing the genomes of ancient birds, scientists hope to build up a better picture of their physiology and how they dispersed and split into different species. It may even be possible to surmise their diets from genes encoding the enzymes for digesting particular types of food. Co-author Otago University archaeologist Chris Jacomb said: “The interesting thing from the bird eggs is they seem to preserve the eggshell DNA and biomolecules better than bone because of the crystalline structure of the eggshell itself.” Moa eggshell fragments were collected from Redcliffs in Christchurch, Pounawea in the Catlins and Hawke’s Bay. The findings of the study were published in the Royal Society’s Proceedings journal of biological sciences.