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2-million-year-old DNA reveals an ancient Greenland ecosystem "unlike any now found on Earth"

16.12.2022 02:27 AM
2-million-year-old DNA reveals an ancient Greenland ecosystem "unlike any now found on Earth"
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2-million-year-old DNA reveals an ancient Greenland ecosystem "unlike any now found on Earth"
Researchers from the Universities of Cambridge and Copenhagen discovered DNA samples dating back about two million years. The samples revealed that Greenland, now known for its bitter cold, was once full of lush forests and rare animals.

Known as the "Land of the Midnight Sun and Dog Sledding", North Greenland resembles an arctic desert with massive icebergs. But that wasn't always the case - two million years ago, there was an ecosystem of dense forests unlike any now on Earth.

A historic and "extraordinary" discovery showed just how much the glacial landscape has changed, as researchers found 2-million-year-old DNA - the oldest ever discovered - buried in clay and quartz deposits preserved in the permafrost in far north Greenland, according to the study published in the journal Nature. Nature magazine this week.

"Finally we have opened a new chapter spanning an additional million years of history and for the first time we can look directly at the DNA of an ancient ecosystem going back so far," said one of the study's authors, Eske Willerslev, from the University of Cambridge, in a press release. It degrades quickly but we have shown that under the right conditions, we can always return to it just in time and in the right preservation conditions in more ways than some can imagine," according to the American CBS website.

Willerslev, in collaboration with Kurt Geyer of the University of Copenhagen, discovered 41 DNA samples, each consisting of only a few millionths of a millimeter, but enough to obtain invaluable information, as those small samples revealed that the freezing area was once home to a number of animals. and more plants and microorganisms than there are today, including hares and lemon trees.

Animals out of place

Among the most surprising finds were traces of animals that were thought to have never existed in the country such as reindeer and giant mastodons, as the area where the rare DNA was found is usually known to have minimal plants, rabbits and some musk oxen. According to the National Geographic website.

"These animals could not have survived in this area, and according to paleontologists they should not have been here in the first place at this time," Willerslev told Nature of the Animal.

  Mastodons, according to the San Diego Museum of Natural History, are large Pleistocene mammals that are similar in size and characteristics to the modern-day elephant and were previously thought to have gone extinct 13,000 years ago, living mostly across North America. And the central one, according to what was published by the American news agency UPI.

Dense trees and forests

The researchers also found evidence that today's relatively empty environment was once "an ecosystem full of forests and poplars (which do not usually grow in the far north) unlike any ecosystem now on Earth," according to the study.

"Nobody expected this ecosystem to exist in northern Greenland at this time," Willerslev said.

Additional findings, such as the discovery of remains of horseshoe crabs and some species of extremely rare green algae, support scientists' belief that the climate of northern Greenland two million years ago was much warmer than it is today.

As startling as their findings are, the researchers say the door has finally opened to Greenland's true biological history, and they're excited about what this could mean in future studies using the ancient DNA that was discovered.

The study says that "detailed DNA records of plants and vertebrates may survive elsewhere and, if well accessed, will advance human understanding of climate variability and biotic interactions during the warmest early Pleistocene epoch across the Arctic."
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