Baking Out DNA: Mummies Cook Evenly Rare and Well Done

Mummies more than 800 years old are shedding new light on old mysteries with the help of a special technique for DNA analysis. Forensic scientist, Dr. Heather Coyle from the University of New Haven has found a way to extract DNA from mummies discovered in a cave in the Gobi desert.

Usually bones are frozen in order to retrieve DNA from them, and it occurred to Coyle and her team as they examined the mummified remains that the high intensity heat of the desert actually baked them naturally. They conducted an experiment mimicking desert conditions and found that by baking a particularly difficult sample they were able to break open more cells and expose more of the DNA molecules.

They baked the bones for a period of 72 hours after which liquid nitrogen was poured into a pulverizer. The bone was then placed inside and crushed into powder, at which point the DNA is ready to be extracted.

According to Dr. Coyle: “The process makes the bone more brittle so it makes it easier to grind and break open more cells, so we think we are accessing more DNA to begin with.”

Although extracting DNA from the desert mummies was successful, when Dr. Coyle attempted this same modus operandi on a body found in the United States, she was not able to do it.


Dr. Coyle still hopes that experimenting with this baking technique will someday aid in granting closure to many a cold case file. Every cell in the human body contains DNA. What this procedure could do for forensic science remains in the wings.

Still, depending on where you fall within the boundaries of the law and whether you are a law-abiding citizen or a criminal involved in a long unsolved cold case, this information is either something to be thankful for or very, very upsetting.

Here’s to what you and your team started, Dr. Coyle

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