A study on recovering useable DNA from formalin-fixed fish specimens

March 1st, 2021

Glass bottles with clear liquid full of preserved fish specimens.

Formalin fixation methods used for preserving fish specimens can damage the DNA, limiting genetic analyses.

Natural history collections are remarkable libraries of the earth’s biodiversity. Scientists use these collections in many ways, and increasingly want to access DNA from specimens because DNA is pure information that can tell us many useful things. For example, to understand how species respond to environmental change, and to identify pests or endangered species.

Extracting DNA from old and poorly preserved specimens can be difficult. In particular, the common formalin fixation methods used for wet or fluid‐filled specimens such as fishes, reptiles and amphibians damage the DNA, limiting genetic analyses.

A recently published paper by Sharon Appleyard and colleagues from the Environomics FSP showed how to identify which fish specimens stored in formalin are most likely to yield usable DNA, and also identified the best ways to obtain DNA from those specimens. This research will increase the number of ways that natural history collections can be used.

Read the full details of the study here.