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How is DNA like a clock?

As DNA passes from one generation to the next, it acquires small changes, known as mutations. Scientists estimate that after a million years, 2-4% of any stretch of animal DNA will have changed. By measuring the number of DNA changes between peoples from different parts of the world, scientists can calculate when they separated. This 'DNA clock' also tells us that the last common ancestor of chimps and humans lived about 350,000 generations ago: about 5 million years.

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Lucy lived 3-5 million years ago and may have been our ancestor.

Jurassic Park?

How long does DNA last? Nearly all your cells contain DNA, and there may be traces in your body long after your death. Short fragments of DNA may last for 50,000 to 100,000 years before water, air and microbes finally destroy them. Eventually, even the DNA in insects trapped in amber decays, and is lost forever – so ideas from the movie Jurassic Park are, and always will be, just fiction.

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An insect preserved in amber.


Principal Funder:

Wellcome trust

Major Sponsors:

GlaxoSmithKline life technologies