Millions of documents stored in archives could provide scientists with the key to tracing agricultural development across the centuries, according to new research completed at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland and the University of York in the UK. Amazingly, thanks to increasingly progressive genetic sequencing techniques, the all-important historical tales these documents tell are no longer confined to their texts; now, vital information also comes from the DNA of the parchment on which they are written. Researchers used these state-of-the-art scientific techniques to extract ancient DNA and protein from tiny samples of parchment from documents from the late 17th and late 18th centuries. The resulting information enabled them to establish the type of animals from which the parchment was made, which, when compared to genomes of their modern equivalents, provides key information as to how agricultural expansion shaped the genetic diversity of these animals. This information therefore gives the scientists an unrivalled resource to analyse the development of livestock husbandry across the centuries. The research was published online on ecember 8, 2014 in the international, peer-reviewed journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. Professor of Population Genetics at Trinity College Dublin, Dr. Daniel Bradley, said: "This pilot project suggests that parchments are an amazing resource for genetic studies that consider agricultural development over the centuries. There must be millions stored away in libraries, archives, solicitors' offices, and even in our own attics.
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