Permalink World’s Oldest DNA Found in Greenland. Reveals Arctic’s Lost Nature

Some two million years ago, now barren and inhospitable Greenland lived up to its name, with elephant-like mastodons roaming its green forests. | The world’s oldest known fragments of DNA have been found in the permafrost of Cape Copenhagen at the northern edge of Greenland, offering an extraordinary glimpse at the extraordinary ancient ecosystem of the world’s largest island. The analyzed genetic material dates back at least two million years, which is nearly twice as old as the mammoth DNA from Siberia which was the previous record holder.  The samples, gathered from more than 130 species ranging from giant mastodons to ants and plants, and identified after several years of painstaking research, showed that Greenland, today one of the world’s most desolate landscapes of ice glaciers and snow-covered mountains, was once covered by a forest of poplar and birch trees inhabited by wildlife such as reindeer, rodents and geese, and washed by warm coastal waters which provided a home to marine species such as horseshoe crabs and green algae. The reconstructed ecosystem has no modern analogue, the researchers said, describing it as a 💬 “mix between species that you don't see living together anywhere in the world.”  Extracting DNA from sediment allows researchers to track the ecology and evolution of prehistoric biological communities. It was pioneered by Danish researchers from the Lundbeck Foundation Geogenetics Center at the University of Copenhagen and relies on the binding of ancient DNA to mineral surfaces. In the early 2000s this method was tested on a chunk of Siberian permafrost and facilitated the extraction of DNA from plants such as willows and daisies which lived 400,000 years ago.  It can be estimated that the temperature in Greenland back then was between 11 and 19 degrees warmer than today, and therefore the two million-year-old ecosystem in North Greenland also provides a detailed insight into how nature reacted to climate change. (Image: © Wikipedia / Mauricio Antón)


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