Tattletale Termite

Scraps of ancient insect genes solve a long-standing mystery of evolution

MOST HOMEOWNERS WOULD READILY AGREE THAT the only good termite is a dead termite, but the one unearthed on a dig in the Dominican Republic was better than most. The insect, trapped between 25 million and 30 million years ago in a blob of tree sap that hardened into amber, has yielded genetic material that is the oldest ever studied, by at least 8 million years. It has also resolved a long-simmering dispute over the family tree of cockroaches.

In the past, the tiny scraps of ancient DNA that can be found in mummified tissue would have been far too small...

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