Oldest Known DNA Offers Glimpse of a Once-Lush Arctic – The New York Times

An illustration of the Kap Kobenhavn Formation in northern Greenland two million years ago, when it was covered with poplar and birch forests and populated with mastodons.Credit…Beth Zaiken

By Carl Zimmer Dec. 7, 2022Updated 3:35 p.m. ET

In the permafrost at the northern edge of Greenland, scientists have discovered the oldest known fragments of DNA, offering an extraordinary look at an extraordinary ancient ecosystem.

Thegenetic material dates back at least two million years — that’s nearly twice as old as the mammoth DNA in Siberia that held the previous record. And the samples, described on Wednesday in the journal Nature, came from more than 135 different species.

Together, they show that a region just 600 miles from the North Pole was once covered by a forest of poplar and birch trees inhabited by mastodons. The forests were also home to caribou and Arctic hares. And the warm coastal waters were filled with horseshoe crabs, a species that today cannot be found any farther north of Maine.

Independent experts hailed the study as a major advance.

“It feels almost magical to be able to infer such a complete picture of an ancient ecosystem from tiny fragments of preserved DNA,” said Beth Shapiro, a paleogeneticist at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

…(read more).

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