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The oldest DNA ever found in Greenland dates back to two million years

The oldest DNA ever found in Greenland dates back to two million years

It’s a find straight out of the Jurassic Park movie.

Scientists have discovered 2-million-year-old DNA for the first time, breaking the previous record of 1 million years.

The microscopic fragments, each a few millionths of a millimeter long, have been found in Pleistocene sediments from northern Greenland.

The DNA allowed experts to map a prehistoric ecosystem made up of animals like reindeer, hares, lemmings, and even a mastodon, which is often described as a hairy elephant from the Ice Age.

The DNA allowed experts to map a prehistoric ecosystem made up of animals like reindeer, hares, lemmings, and even a mastodon, which is often described as a hairy elephant from the Ice Age.

It was previously thought that Mastodon’s range didn’t extend far from its known origins in North America, but this new discovery proves that it roamed as far as Greenland before becoming extinct.

Evidence of plants such as birch and poplar has also been found, along with a range of microorganisms.

Professor Eske Willerslev, Fellow of St John’s College, University of Cambridge, said: “A new chapter has been opened spanning another million years of history and for the first time we can look directly at the DNA of a former ecosystem going back a long way.

“DNA can degrade quickly, but we have shown that under the right conditions we can now go back in time further than anyone would dare to imagine.”

The microscopic fragments, each a few millionths of a millimeter long, have been found in Pleistocene sediments in northern Greenland.

41 usable DNA samples have been found hidden in clay and quartz in the Copenhaven Formation, a roughly 100-meter-thick sediment located at the mouth of a fjord in the Arctic Ocean.

Professor Kurt Kjaer, from the University of Copenhagen’s Lundbeck Foundation Center for Geogenetics, said: “The ancient DNA samples were found buried deep in sediments that were accumulated over more than 20,000 years.

“The sediment was eventually preserved in ice or permafrost and, more importantly, undisturbed by humans for two million years.”

Investigative work by a team of 40 researchers from Denmark, UK, France, Sweden, Norway, USA and Germany has revealed the secrets of DNA fragments.

Although very few pieces of mastodon DNA exist, the researchers said they are very fragmentary and do not cover the entire genome, which means reviving the species by cloning would not be possible.

The stump of a two-million-year-old pine tree is still stuck in the permafrost of coastal sediments. The tree was washed into the sea by rivers that eroded the ancient forest landscape

The team said their discovery could provide clues as to how best to counter the “devastating impact of global warming”. Pictured: Artist’s impression of the Cap Copenhaven Formation today

However, the team said their discovery could provide clues about how best to counter the “devastating impact of global warming”.

“Expeditions are very expensive and many samples were taken in 2006, when the team was in Greenland for another project,” said Professor Kjaer. “It has been in storage ever since.

“Only when a new generation of DNA extraction and sequencing equipment was developed were we able to identify and identify very small and damaged DNA fragments in sediment samples.

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“Genetic engineering could mimic the strategy plants and trees developed two million years ago to survive a warming climate and prevent the extinction of some species, plants and trees.

“This is one of the reasons why this scientific breakthrough is so important, because it can reveal how to try to counteract the devastating impact of global warming.”

Professor Esk Willerslev and colleague sample from an environmental DNA deposit in Greenland

Professor Willerslev said it was possible that the clays preserved ancient DNA in the hot, humid environments of the sites in Africa.

“If we can begin to explore the ancient DNA of clay grains from Africa, we may be able to gather groundbreaking information about the origin of many different species — and perhaps even new insights into early humans and their ancestors — the possibilities are endless,” he said.

In the movie Jurassic Park, scientists find fragmented dinosaur DNA preserved in amber and manage to fill in the genetic holes with frog DNA.

Unfortunately for fans, while the concept of cloning an animal from DNA is possible, experts say dinosaur genes preserved in amber wouldn’t survive to this day.

The research has been published in the journal Nature.

Explained to Mastodons

Pictured: a reconstructed Juggernaut

Mastodons—whose name means “breast teeth,” after the nipple-like protrusions on their molars—are ancient relatives of the elephant.

They lived in North and Central America from about 5.3 million years ago during the Pliocene era until about 10,000 to 11,000 years ago.

Being herd-living forest animals, mastodons would have consumed a mixed diet based on both browsing and, to a lesser extent, grazing.

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Like other large Pleistocene animals, their extinction is thought to have been caused by a combination of climate change and over-harvesting by the ancient American Clovis culture hunters.

They had a similar structure to the modern Asian elephant and could grow to about 9′ 2″ (2.8 m) long and weigh up to 11 tons.

Mastodons are often depicted as wearing a coat – like the woolly mammoth – however, there is no actual evidence to support this feature.