From dawn 'till tusk: Oldest DNA ever discovered belongs to a woolly mammoth

Written on 02/18/2021
Ciarán Mather

Swedish scientists recently discovered DNA which belonged to the preserved body of a woolly mammoth, it has been confirmed.

The DNA comes from the teeth of three mammoth specimens and are estimated to be up to 1.2 million years old. 

Although the remains were actually first discovered in Siberia in the 1970s, the samples were not properly analysed until recently.

Researchers first dated the specimens geologically, using comparisons with other species, such as small rodents.

Love Dalén, professor of evolutionary genetics at the Centre for Paleogenetics in Stockholm and senior author of the study, told Nature: '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.'

Previously, the oldest known DNA belonged to the body of a horse believed to be up to 800,000 years old.

According to the study's findings, it has been suggested that the oldest mammoth, named Krestovka, was even older than thought, at approximately 1.65m years.

Meanwhile, the second, Adycha, was about 1.34m years old, and the youngest, Chukochya, was 870,000 years old.

Professor Dalén added that it was previously believed that there was only one species of mammoth located in Siberia at that time, but now the team think there may in fact have been two.

He also said that new technologies could allow the sequencing of even older DNA from remains found in the permafrost, which dates back 2.6 million years.

However, this would have to be done quickly, as further remains could be washed away by more rainfall in the region.

The findings of the study have since been published in Nature.

Here's hoping we also find old DNA from a sabre cat, a sloth and a nuts-mad fanged squirrel to go alongside it.

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