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DNA barcoding of ancient parasites

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 March 2018

Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, PO Box 69040, Lincoln, Canterbury 7640, New Zealand
Corresponding author: Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, PO Box 69040, Lincoln, Canterbury 7640, New Zealand. E-mail:


Ancient samples present a number of technical challenges for DNA barcoding, including damaged DNA with low endogenous copy number and short fragment lengths. Nevertheless, techniques are available to overcome these issues, and DNA barcoding has now been used to successfully recover parasite DNA from a wide variety of ancient substrates, including coprolites, cesspit sediment, mummified tissues, burial sediments and permafrost soils. The study of parasite DNA from ancient samples can provide a number of unique scientific insights, for example: (1) into the parasite communities and health of prehistoric human populations; (2) the ability to reconstruct the natural parasite faunas of rare or extinct host species, which has implications for conservation management and de-extinction; and (3) the ability to view in ‘real-time’ processes that may operate over century- or millenial-timescales, such as how parasites responded to past climate change events or how they co-evolved alongside their hosts. The application of DNA metabarcoding and high-throughput sequencing to ancient specimens has so far been limited, but in future promises great potential for gaining empirical data on poorly understood processes such as parasite co-extinction.

Special Issue Review
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