Finding Amelia Earhart With Spit

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Leave it to Vancouver to lead the way on world history. Simon Fraser University is undertaking a new project to profile the DNA of Amelia Earhart using spit from old family letters.

As reported by National Geographic, the project is the effort of the Long family and SFU. “Anyone can go and find a turtle shell and be like ‘I found Amelia Earhart’s remains,'” said Justin Long, a resident businessman who also studies Health Sciences at the university. Justin is the grandson of 1970s aviator Elgen Long, who co-wrote Amelia Earhart: The Mystery Solved.

The project looks to create the first and full genetic profile of Amelia Earhart. Earhart vanished in 1937 while flying around the world; researchers believe she ran out of fuel and crashed in the Pacific Ocean. The letters being used in the project were written by Amelia to her family and are believed to have been sealed with her own spit. With the hundreds of claims made to  the Amelia Earhart mystery, the DNA profile will also be used to verify any claimed remains as recently seen in the news.

Dr. Dongya Yang will be leading the Earhart DNA project. Dr. Yang and his team will carefully steam open the letter seals to examine the spit for epithelial cells left over by a good licking. The technique used to harvest the DNA will first be tested and perfected on other letters made available. After the DNA is harvested, it will then be compared to another letter written by Amelia’s sister Muriel Earhart.

It may also be the first time anyone has used old letters to create a genetic profile of a historical person. Geneticist Brenna Henn of Stanford University said she knows of no other case where DNA has been harvested from a decades old letter. The biggest challenge is finding enough DNA to create an entire sequence, as 99% of the human genome is identical in every person.

Assuming the team experiences no setbacks, Dr. Yang says that he expects results in “a couple months.”

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