Genetic science moon landing as bear DNA sequenced from cave earth

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The find offered a glimpse of bears over 10,000 years old (Ronaldino and Grant Zazula, Yukon Beringia Interpretation Center)

Stone Age black bears that defecated in a cave in Mexico 16,000 years ago have opened a new frontier in genetic science, researchers said.

Researchers used the cave floor to sequence ancient soil DNA for the first time.

The discoveries have been described as the “moon landings” of genomics, as researchers will no longer have to rely on research and testing of fossils to determine genetic ancestry, connections and discoveries.

It could rewrite what we know about everything from evolution to climate change.

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A team of scientists led by researchers at Cambridge has recreated the genomes of animals, plants and bacteria from microscopic fragments of DNA found in the Chiquihuite cave.

This “scientist first” has a broader meaning because it increases the ability of scientists to study the evolution of animals, plants and microorganisms.

This is because working with highly fragmented DNA from soil samples means scientists no longer have to rely on DNA samples from bones or teeth to obtain enough genetic material to recreate a ancient DNA profile, which opens the door to what can be tested and studied.

The samples included feces and urine droplets from a best-known and most common bear ancestor in North America – the American black bear – which allowed scientists to recreate the entire code. genetics of two species of the animal.

The first is the American Stone Age black bear, the second is an extinct short-faced bear called Arctodus simus which went extinct 12,000 years ago.

Professor Willerslev said: “When an animal or human urinates or defecates, the body’s cells are also excreted. And the DNA fragments from these cells are what we can detect in the soil samples.

“Using extremely powerful sequencing techniques, we have for the first time reconstructed genomes – genetic profiles – from these fragments.

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“We have shown that hair, urine and stool all provide genetic material which, under the right conditions, can survive well over 10,000 years.”

“All over the world, everyone scientifically involved in the study of ancient DNA has recognized the need to reconstruct genomes from fragments found in soil or sediment.

“Being able to do this for the first time means we’ve opened up a new frontier.

“Analysis of DNA found in soil could have the potential to expand the narrative on everything from the evolution of species to developments in climate change – this is the moon landing of genomics because fossils will not be no longer needed. “

Assistant Professor Mikkel Winther Pedersen of the University of Copenhagen samples cave sediments for DNA. (Devlin A. Gandy)

Assistant Professor Mikkel Winther Pedersen of the University of Copenhagen samples cave sediments for DNA (Devlin A. Gandy)

The same group of scientists revealed last year that DNA analysis of plant and animal remains from sediment piled up around tools in the cave dated the tools and human occupation of the site there. is 25,000-30,000 years old – 15,000 years earlier than humans. previously thought to have reached the Americas.

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