Valuing museum specimens: high-throughput DNA sequencing on historical collections of New Guinea crowned pigeons (Goura)

G. Besnard, J. A. M. Bertrand, B. Delahaie, Y. X. C. Bourgeois, E. Lhuillier, C. Thébaud

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Museum specimens are of particular importance for investigating systematics and the biogeography as well as other aspects of the evolution of biodiversity. They are also a depository of specimens accumulated over recent historical times and often the only way to study recently extinct or rare species. Unfortunately, most museum specimens yield low-quality DNA limiting their generalized use in phylogenetic and population genetic studies. Advances in sequencing technologies now offer opportunities to analyse such material even from very small tissue. Here, we applied the Illumina technology (HiSeq) on three specimens of crowned pigeon (Goura spp.) collected in New Guinea between 1879 and 1934. A shotgun strategy allowed us to quickly and reliably assemble complete mitochondrial genomes and fragments of three single-copy gene phylogenetic markers even with low double-stranded DNA quantity (9 to 69ng). Phylogenetic assignments of these new sequences confirmed them as Goura sequences. Therefore, our study confirms the power of using next-generation sequencing methods to investigate the evolutionary history of species for which access to fresh samples is limited but museum collections are available. These approaches are considerably increasing the value of many natural history collections for genetic investigations, particularly from biodiversity hotspots that are presently difficult to prospect.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-82
Number of pages12
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number1
Early online date30 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016


  • genome skimming
  • historical museum collection
  • mitochondrial DNA
  • next-generation sequencing
  • single-copy gene


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