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Pickled? No Problem

In Discover, Sam Walters reports on a DNA extraction method designed to tease genetic material out of the sort of pickled samples that are often found in museum archives — an approach that a research duo from Rutgers University and Chicago's Field Museum published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution in late June.

"Specifically, the authors intended to analyze the DNA of Hydrablabes periops, the olive small-eyed snake, to classify the species in a specific family," Walters writes. "Implementing their new approach, they found that the snake fits in the Natricidae, a family that includes the North American garter snake."

After running into problems doing targeted capture sequencing on degraded, formalin- or ethanol-fixed snake samples from a natural history collection, the investigators turned to phylogenetics and reference/pseudo-reference mapping to boost their ability to find clues across the mitochondrial genomes and at thousands of sites peppered within the nuclear genome in five of the archived samples.

"We combined our H. periops data with previously published genomic and Sanger-sequenced datasets to confirm the familial designation of this taxon, reject previous taxonomic hypotheses, and make biogeographic inferences for Hydrablabes," study authors Sara Ruane and Justin Bernstain explain.