Minimally Invasive Method to extract DNA from Dentition using Cobb Collection Human Skeletal Remains

Alexis Payne, 1,2 

Christopher Cross, M.S.1,4,

Latifa Jackson, Ph.D.1,3 

John Harvey, D.D.S.5, 

Fatimah Jackson, Ph.D.1,2

  1. W. Montague Cobb Research Laboratory, Howard University

  2. Department of Biology, Howard University

  3. National Human Genome Center, Howard University Hospital

  4. Department of Anatomy, Howard University


Teeth have been used as a source of DNA for identifying fragmented and degraded human remains. Cellular cementum is collected and analyzed for DNA sequencing. Cementum is the outside layer of the tooth that is located on the roots. The location of teeth within the jawbone makes them a great choice due to the protection the bone provides. Teeth selection for extraction is based on studies of the anatomical characteristics of teeth. Additionally, it is known that cellular cementum will be greatest on teeth with the largest root surface area, like molars, premolars and canines. The extraction process of removing cementum, however is not as widely understood. With the use of the Cobb Collection’s dental remains, a new procedure for cementum extraction that grants preservation of the entire tooth has been developed. The Cobb Collection provides a unique source of 19th and 20th century African American biological histories. Cementum extraction and DNA sequencing of these individuals will support further subsample studies on raw material of human remains. The procedure also supports oral microbiome analysis to understand dietary habits and disease exposure in studied individuals. Cementum extraction through the roots is a minimally invasive. It can provide critical information that can advance clinical science. Our methodology re-engineers current clinical dental practices for research purposes by curvette removal of plaque, calculus, cementum, and remnant periodontal ligament tissue. We have successfully extracted dental-derived DNA from all of the aforementioned layers and are currently optimizing these procedures. This technique both protects and makes use of the precious material for current studies and future generations.
Cobb Lab