, 2022-12-07 17:53:36,
December 8, 2022
Image credit: Beth Zaiken
New DNA, more than a million years older than the previous record, is helping researchers study molecules that were made inside plants and animals 2 million years ago, opening a new window into the history of life on Earth.
At the icy northern tip of Greenland, far into the Arctic Circle, a deep bed of sediment beneath the mouth of a fjord has lain frozen and undisturbed for 2 million years.
Known as the Kap København Formation, this relic of a vanished world dates to a period when Earth was much warmer than it is today. The sediment built up in a shallow bay over a period of 20,000 years, before being buried beneath ice and permafrost.
Our team, led by Kurt Kjær, Mikkel Winter Pedersen and Eske Willerslev at Copenhagen University, has extracted and analysed the oldest DNA ever recovered from samples of this Greenlandic sediment. It reveals the plants, animals and microorganisms that thrived in an ecosystem unlike anything in the modern world.
As we report today in Nature, this DNA is more than a million years older than the previous record. We can now recover and directly study molecules that were made inside plants and animals 2 million years ago, opening a new window into the history of life on Earth.
A snapshot of an extinct ecosystem
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