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.
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.