Doubts cast on dinosaur DNA claim

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A piece of DNA extracted from an 80 million-year-old dinosaur bone has turned out to be human, according to new research to be published soon.

Scientists at the University of Munich believe colleagues at Brigham Young University in the United States, who extracted the ``dinosaur DNA'' last year, have suffered from a laboratory contamination.

The Munich team re-analysed the dinosaur DNA and found it was almost identical to a little-known fragment of human DNA. Hans Zischler, one of the researchers, said yesterday: ``We think that it's a human sequence, we are pretty sure of that. Yes, it is a contamination.'' The team is led by Svante Paabo, one of the world's most respected scientists researching ancient DNA.

Scott Woodward, leader of the Brigham Young team, said yesterday he had seen the new evidence but still believed it was dinosaur DNA. ``Paabo says we've got a piece of human DNA, I still maintain we haven't.'' He added that he was still talking to Dr Paabo about the new analysis and that he made extensive checks to ensure the DNA was not from any known living animal.

Should he have to retract his research, the record for extracting the oldest vertebrate DNA will revert to Erika Hagelberg of Cambridge University who found DNA in a Siberian woolly mammoth that lived 47,000 years ago.