DNA/RNA Degradation Rate in Long Term Fixed Museum Specimens


In today’s research driven society, it has become commonplace for institutions to rely upon DNA and RNA extraction techniques to help obtain genomic data from old specimens. Generally, specimens are preserved for future gross examination and/or teaching. Using histological examination of specimens from museum jars from the Pathology Department at the Indiana University School of Medicine, the sequential and chronological degradation of DNA and RNA has been studied. We examined gross specimens from 1920 to 2000. We evaluated histologic preservation of kidney, liver, heart, lung, spleen, uterus and brain for nuclear structure in these samples. Nuclear preservation was based on amount of nuclei per microscopic field and the crispness of the nuclear membrane and internal features. The nuclei in high lipid tissues such as the brain were found to degrade at a quicker rate than dense tissues such as the heart and uterus. Our study has shown that specimens preserved beyond fifty years were likely to have little to no nuclei left, thus indicating that there was little to no DNA and RNA remaining. This technique of histologic evaluation is an important finding and a general guideline which may save research institutions from the expensive process of DNA and RNA extraction.

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Cook, S. , Dodge, C. , Morgan, R. and Sandusky, G. (2015) DNA/RNA Degradation Rate in Long Term Fixed Museum Specimens. Forensic Medicine and Anatomy Research, 3, 1-6. doi: 10.4236/fmar.2015.31001.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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