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This summer I went from extracted DNA to having a complete (90% or
higher) DNA sequence in my hand in about a week's time, sometimes as
little as 3 days if you get a little lucky. It's a pretty simple
process if you know what you're doing. As far as external contaminants
goes, we ran into this problem a lot working with maize. The
greenhouse had an aphid problem and it was nearly impossible to not
include some aphids in the DNA sample. In the end it never mattered
though because the DNA in the source (leaf in our case, feather in
this case) far outnumbers any single contaminating source. The
probability of amplifying unwanted DNA is fairly small, particularly
if you have good primers for PCR.

I thought the problem may be with database comparison, but a quick
search of "Larus" in Genbank produced 659 nucleotide sequences, so
this shouldn't really be a huge problem. On the other hand, I have no
idea how many cells there are in a feather that contain acceptable
DNA. Perhaps someone could enlighten me on this....are feathers alive?
As in, are cells actively dividing in them or are they a lot like the
hairs on our heads in that just the root is "alive"? Personally, I'm
stumped...so I emailed a couple of geneticists tonight to ask them why
the process could take months. I'm probably missing something
simple....but in the meantime, I'm thrilled! Genetics AND birds! I
never thought I'd see the two mesh right before my own eyes!

Ryan Douglas

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