Ancient DNA laboratory
The ancient DNA laboratory at the Natural History Museum opened November 2010, and is dedicated to retrieving DNA molecules from “old” samples such as bones, museum skins and soil.
These are very sensitive samples containing only little endogenous DNA. The layout, design and organisation of the laboratory are focused on minimising the risk of contaminating these old samples with modern DNA or previously amplified PCR products.
The laboratory is situated on the fourth floor of the Geological Museum building, physically separated from our modern DNA and post-PCR laboratories, which are in the Zoological Museum building. The space inside the ancient DNA lab is divided into four small rooms that each have their own purpose.
The laboratory is entered through a changing room where researchers change into the required dress code: full body suit, facemask, shoe covers, clogs, etc. One room is dedicated to the drilling of bones and the weighing and handling of soil samples (i.e. the “dirty” room). A second small room is used for setting up of PCRs only. The third and largest room is set up for extraction of DNA and storage of chemical and products. This latter room also contains a washing up area, and a biological safety cabinet for the handling of toxic chemicals.
To minimise the contamination risk each room is exposed to a high dose of UV radiation each night. All air entering the laboratory is HEPA filtered and a positive air pressure is maintained such that air flows from the more internal rooms to the outer rooms and out into the corridor through the changing room. To avoid bone dust entering the laboratory the bone drilling room has it’s own circulation.
Extensive cleaning protocols are in place, with bleach being the primary cleaning reagent used. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, all researchers using the laboratory undergo extensive training in order to become familiar with procedures required for safe working with old samples.