Indiana Jane illustration

show/hide words to know

Enzyme: a protein that changes the speed of chemical reactions.

Extract: to draw or pull something out (especially from another material).

The Hunt for DNA

Indiana Jane must have permission to work with each bone. When she is ready to extract DNA, she cuts a small piece of bone or tooth and crushes it into powder. It looks a little like flour you can bake with.

Bone processing montage

The bone must be cut before it can be crushed to analyze the bone powder. Click for more detail.

In the bone powder are millions of bone cells and millions of cells from other organisms, including bacteria and parasites. A copy of the DNA is located inside every single cell.

Bone powder

In the bone powder is a mix of dirt, bone cells and cells from bacteria, parasites, or other microbes. Image by Maria Nieves-Colón.

Next, she needs to crack open the cell walls so that the DNA spills out. A special enzyme does this job. It is a lot like cracking open an egg into a bowl, except that it is all microscopic.

But DNA is not the only thing inside a cell. When the cell walls are cracked, other cell parts come out as well. To separate the DNA from the other parts of the cell, the next step is the cleaning step. Indiana Jane must capture only the DNA but leave all of the “dirt” behind.

When the DNA is clean, it is ready for analysis.  Indiana Jane hopes we have captured more than just human DNA. This is where she hopes the microbe DNA will be. 

Skull section image via Wikimedia Commons by Phyzome.

View Citation

You may need to edit author's name to meet the style formats, which are in most cases "Last name, First name."

Bibliographic details:

  • Article: The Hunt for DNA
  • Author(s): Kelly Harkins
  • Publisher: Arizona State University School of Life Sciences Ask A Biologist
  • Site name: ASU - Ask A Biologist
  • Date published: June 2, 2014
  • Date accessed: April 17, 2024
  • Link:

APA Style

Kelly Harkins. (2014, June 02). The Hunt for DNA. ASU - Ask A Biologist. Retrieved April 17, 2024 from

American Psychological Association. For more info, see

Chicago Manual of Style

Kelly Harkins. "The Hunt for DNA". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 02 June, 2014.

MLA 2017 Style

Kelly Harkins. "The Hunt for DNA". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 02 Jun 2014. ASU - Ask A Biologist, Web. 17 Apr 2024.

Modern Language Association, 7th Ed. For more info, see
midsaggital section of a skull

Skulls and other bones can teach us a lot more about our ancestors than you might think.

Be Part of
Ask A Biologist

By volunteering, or simply sending us feedback on the site. Scientists, teachers, writers, illustrators, and translators are all important to the program. If you are interested in helping with the website we have a Volunteers page to get the process started.

Donate icon  Contribute

Share this page:


Share to Google Classroom