World's oldest DNA sequenced from million years' old mammoths.

PARIS : Teeth from mammoths buried in the Siberian permafrost for more than a million years have yielded the world's oldest DNA ever sequenced, according to s study published on Wednesday, shining the genetic searchlight into the deep past.

Researchers said the three specimens, one roughly 800,000 years old and two over a million years old, provided important insight into giant ice Age mammals, including the ancient heritage of the wooly mammoth.

The genomes far exceed the oldest previously sequenced DNA - a horse dating between 780,000 to 560,000 years ago.

''This DNA is incredibly old. The samples are a thousand times older than Viking remains, and even pre-date the existence of humans and Neanderthals,'' said Love Dalen, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Center for Palaeogenetics in Stockholm, senior author of the study published in Nature.

The mammoths were originally discovered in the 10970s in Siberia and held at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.

Researchers first dated the specimens geologically, with comparisons to other species, like small rodents, known to be unique to particular time periods and found in the same sedimentary layers.

This suggested that two of the mammals were ancient steppe mammoths more than a million years old.

The youngest of the trio is one of the earliest woolly mammals yet found.

They also extracted genetic data from tiny samples of powder from each mammoth tooth, ''essentially like a pinch of salt you would put on a dinner plate,'' Dalen told a press conference.

While it had degraded into very small fragments, scientists were able to sequence tens of million of chemical base pairs, which make up the strands of DNA, and conduct age estimates from genetic information.

This suggests that the oldest mammoth, named Krestovka, is even older at approximately 1.65 million years old, while the second, Adycha, is around 1.34 million years old, and the youngest Chukochya is  870,000 years old.

Dalen said the discrepancy for the oldest mammoth could be an underestimation in the DNA dating process, meaning the creature was likely around 1.2 million years old, as suggested by the geological evidence. [AFP]


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