Phar Lap’s DNA

Earlier this year, Te Papa received a request from scientists in Australia for a tooth sample from legendary race horse Phar Lap.

The scientists are hoping to extract DNA from the tooth.  Then they will be able to compare Phar Lap’s DNA with other horses.

Press release from the scientists attempting to obtain Phar Lap’s DNA.

Phar Lap in Te Papa’s Collections Online.

Tales from Te Papa Episode 37: Phar Lap Skeleton.

Te Papa Conservator Robert Clendon removes Phar Lap’s skull from the rest of the skeleton, before extracting one of the incisor teeth.  Photo Jean-Claude Stahl.  © Te Papa.

Te Papa Conservator Robert Clendon removes Phar Lap’s skull from the rest of the skeleton, before extracting one of the incisor teeth. Photo Jean-Claude Stahl. © Te Papa.

Te Papa’s genetics researcher Lara Shepherd uses a dremel to cut a piece from the bottom of an incisor tooth.  The incisor sits deeply within the jaw, so the cut is not visible when the tooth is replaced.  The piece removed has been sent to the external researchers, who will attempt to extract DNA from it.  Photo Jean-Claude Stahl.  © Te Papa.

Te Papa’s genetics researcher Lara Shepherd uses a dremel to cut a piece from the bottom of an incisor tooth. The incisor sits deeply within the jaw, so the cut is not visible when the tooth is replaced. The piece removed has been sent to the external researchers, who will attempt to extract DNA from it. Photo Jean-Claude Stahl. © Te Papa.

The researchers specifically requested part of a tooth, as DNA is often better preserved in teeth compared with other parts of the skeleton.

DNA has been successfully extracted from other long-dead specimens in Te Papa’s natural history collection, including moa and other recently extinct animals.  The use of so-called ‘ancient DNA’ methodologies has become increasingly commonplace, as it provides another tool to investigate the biodiversity treasure trove represented by natural history collections.  Te Papa itself is moving towards having its own ancient DNA facilities.

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