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amber and pathogenic microbes



I recall that a few years ago, I read an article describing the excavation of
a mastodon from a midwestern state.  The animal was entombed in a swamp.  The
researchers claimed that they had isolated the stomach contents, which as I
recall from rote memory, resembled a mish-mash of fibrous green slime that was
located inside of the ribcage of the beast.  They cultured this slime, and
found E-coli in profusion.  E-coli is a common bacterium in our intestinal 
tracts, and also in most mammals tracts.  The researches wanted to do
PCR (polymeraze chain reaction....or whatever it is called) to see if the 
Quaternary E. coli was genetically different from it's modern offspring.
I find it real hard to believe that this colony could have remained dormant for
12,000 or so years in a peat bog.  I never did hear anything else on this
particular project.  Would have loved to have read what the PCR results were.

As far as the concern about getting pathogenic viruses and bacteria out of 
amber, well, if it is possible, it may have already happened.  Amber DOES get
worn down, get fractured and crumble if it is exposed to surface conditions.
That fracturing would in theory release fossil genetic material into the modern
ecosystem.  But I think it is much-ado-about-nothing.  Much more virulent
deadly strains of pathogens are evolving out of modern germs.  Take for instance
the AIDS virus, which at last guess has somewhere between 10 and 20 strains
..all of which react differently to treatment, and to make matters worse,
the average AIDS patient has at least a couple different strains.   That seems
more scary than whether a chunk of Baltic amber gets smashed into pieces on
the Polish coast.

I yanked off the UseNet a nice little article on how to tell if the amber you
bought is real or a fake.  If anyone wants the document, e-mail me and I'll
send it to you via return e-mail.  It's only about 4-5 pages long.