The use of museum collections as a source of DNA offers many unique advantages. A diverse collection of taxonomically identified specimens located in one place creates a range of opportunities for evolutionary and ecological research while avoiding costly field studies. Recorded specimen sexes and collection dates enable population, ecological, pathological, and genetic studies to be calibrated with time offering valuable temporal evolutionary insights (Thomas et al. 1990). Many museum studies can complement molecular work; morphological studies can suggest phylogenetic relationships for molecular testing, and archaeological studies and carbon-dated specimens provide an important temporal and spatial framework for ancient DNA (aDNA) studies. The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is revolutionizing the role of the museum in science by drastically enhancing the amount of information that can be obtained from museum collections. Although the DNA recoverable from these specimens is generally less than 500 base pairs (bp) in length, the ability of PCR to selectively amplify targeted sequences, and to jump damaged points in the DNA (Pääbo et al. 1989) permits larger regions of DNA to be amplified and sequenced. Consequently, a range of genetic material evolving at rates fast enough to distinguish between individuals, and slow enough to examine large scale systematic relationships, has become the latest tool for biological investigation of museum collections.
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