Will Saliva Help Solve The Amelia Earhart Mystery?

By Meera Dolasia on February 25, 2011

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Amelia Earhart P3On March 17, 1937, aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, took off from Oakland, California to make history, by becoming the first woman to fly around the world. However, On July 2nd, just 7,000 miles shy of her goal, her Lockheed Electra twin engine vanished into the Central Pacific Ocean. Despite an extensive search that cost the US government $4 million USD, neither the plane nor any remains of Ms. Earhart or her navigator, Fred Noonan, were found.

Though she was officially declared dead in 1939, her disappearance continues to intrigue researchers, till today. In 1988, the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery initiated a project, to try solve the Earhart/Noonan mystery. Over the years, they have sent six expeditions to the deserted Nikumaroro island, that lies 1,800 miles south of Hawaii, which is believed to be where Earhart and Noonan crash landed, over 70 years ago.

While the expeditions unearthed small pieces of evidence like a mirror from a woman's compact, buttons and a zipper from a flight jacket, human remains were elusive, until the discovery of three bone fragments, in 2009.

Though the researchers assert that the bones belong to Amelia Earhart, they have been unable to prove it, since all possible sources of Ms. Earhart's DNA have dried up, or are considered unreliable. Now, scientists may have thought of a way to solve the mystery - By creating a genetic profile of the legendary aviator from the saliva extracted from envelopes she licked, to seal letters.

The groundbreaking research is being headed by Dongya Yang, a genetic archaeologist at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada. From the over 400 pieces of correspondence available to them, her team picked four letters that Ms. Earhart had written to her sister. They figured that since these were personal, the aviator must have sealed the envelopes herself. Lucky for them, during that era, people always opened letters by cutting a slit on the side, leaving the seal intact.

To extract the saliva that contains the DNA, Ms. Yang will carefully steam the seals open. Once she collects enough of a sample, she and her team hope to gather two kinds of DNA - Mitochondrion, which is inherited from mothers and Nuclear, which the one that contains most of the person's genetic information. Once they are able to get both, they will create a complete genetic profile, which will help verify if these or any other remains that may be found in the future, can be traced back to Amelia Earhart.

However, there are a lot of hurdles - For one, nobody has ever tried extracting DNA in this manner before. Also, while the Mitochondrion DNA is easy to get because multiple copies exist in every cell, the Nuclear DNA may be harder, since each cell carries only one copy. Whether they are able to get enough of the latter, will depend on how Ms. Earhart licked her letters - lightly or with a lot of saliva.

Amelia Earhart P1To confirm that the resulting genetic profile is indeed Ms. Earhart's the team will verify it, by comparing it with her still-living relatives and also, from saliva extracted from a letter her sister wrote. If everything goes according to plan, Ms. Yang believes she will be able to complete the genetic profile in a few months - And maybe, just maybe, finally help solve the mystery of the missing aviator!

Resources: news.national geographic.com,cbsnews.com,abcnews.go.com.

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202 Comments
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  • heewow
    heewowFriday, October 10, 2014 at 10:57 am
    Okay I know the rules. Rules are cool.
    • heewow
      heewowFriday, October 10, 2014 at 10:47 am
      Coolio, very coolio.
      • heewow
        heewowFriday, October 10, 2014 at 10:46 am
        This is cool, extremely cool, very cool, and awesome.
        • mitchminer
          mitchminerSunday, August 10, 2014 at 7:20 pm
          cool
          • haru
            haruSaturday, July 19, 2014 at 10:27 pm
            i can't wait to read more on their research >w< i was always curious on what may have happened to her...now it can be found BANZAI!!
            • DannyFriday, April 4, 2014 at 7:49 am
              WOW!!!
              • kell-bell
                kell-bellWednesday, November 20, 2013 at 9:40 am
                Wow
                • Julianna Monday, December 3, 2012 at 10:53 am
                  Amelia Earhart is a great women
                  • tofu13
                    tofu13Monday, February 4, 2013 at 2:37 pm
                    agree
                  • AlejandroFriday, November 30, 2012 at 10:30 am
                    Cool
                    • hectorWednesday, November 28, 2012 at 2:01 pm
                      this is cool

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