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For DNA samples or 'divorced' tissues, identifying the organism from which they were taken generally requires some type of analytical method. The ideal approach would be robust even in the hands of a novice, requiring minimal equipment, time, and effort. Genotyping SINEs (Short INterspersed Elements) is such an approach as it requires only PCR-related equipment, and the analysis consists solely of interpreting fragment sizes in agarose gels. Modern primate genomes are known to contain lineage-specific insertions of Alu elements (a primate-specific SINE); thus, to demonstrate the utility of this approach, we used members of the Alu family to identify DNA samples from evolutionarily divergent primate species. For each node of a combined phylogenetic tree (56 species; n = 8 [Hominids]; 11 [New World monkeys]; 21 [Old World monkeys]; 2 [Tarsiformes]; and, 14 [Strepsirrhines]), we tested loci (> 400 in total) from prior phylogenetic studies as well as newly identified elements for their ability to amplify in all 56 species. Ultimately, 195 loci were selected for inclusion in this Alu-based key for primate identification. This dichotomous SINE-based key is best used through hierarchical amplification, with the starting point determined by the level of initial uncertainty regarding sample origin. With newly emerging genome databases, finding informative retrotransposon insertions is becoming much more rapid; thus, the general principle of using SINEs to identify organisms is broadly applicable. © 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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