Siberian Mammoth Teeth Hold Oldest DNA Ever Recovered

by Will Shepard

Scientists found the carcasses of three Siberian mammoths and have consequently recovered the oldest DNA in history. They pulled the molars of the mammoth, which can mean that they now can understand an animal that roamed the earth 1.2 million years ago.

The Siberian mammoths were found buried deep in the Sweden permafrost. But, this means that the remains, and molars specifically, are almost completely intact. However, the remains were originally discovered back in the 1970s. However, with new technology, researchers were able to pull the teeth and examine them better.

The oldest Siberian mammoth found by the Krestovka river is roughly 1.2 million years old. The second mammoth, which was about 1 million years old, was found near the Adycha river. The third mammoth, which was approximately 700,000 years old, was found by the Chukochya river.

Before finding these mammoths, the oldest DNA was from a horse in the Yukon in Canada. That horse was about 700,000 years old.

An evolutionary geneticist Love Dalén of the Centre for Palaeogenetics in Sweden talks about the find.

“This DNA was extremely degraded into very small pieces. So, we had to sequence many billions of ultra-short DNA sequences in order to puzzle these genomes together.”

Scientists Find Molars of Three Siberian Mammoths

The molars from the Siberian mammoths are helping to tell a lot more about the history of the animals. Before now, scientists had to study the animals from their skulls.

Now, the researchers are better able to fill in the gaps in genetic sequences for these animals. Additionally, this could provide a better connection between dinosaurs and current species. Dalén expounds on these thoughts.

“When we can get DNA on a million-year time scale, we can study the process of speciation (formation of new species) in a much more detailed way. Morphological analyses on bones and teeth usually only allow researchers to study a handful of characteristics in the fossils. Whereas with genomics, we are analyzing many tens of thousands of characteristics.”

Because of these Siberian mammoths, scientists can now compare them to ones that lived more recently. In particular, researchers are hoping to be able to compare them to ones that were around roughly 4,000 years ago.

In particular, the Krestovka mammoth belongs to a gene pool that scientists never knew existed. That line of genes most likely was around 2 million years ago. Additionally, that gene pool created the woolly mammoth.

Another geneticist, Tom van der Valk of SciLifeLab in Sweden, says that the Krestovka Siberian mammoth were the first ones to migrate to North America. He also says that the land bridge was around roughly 1.5 million years ago.