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Scientists Extract DNA From Ancient Caves

Scientists are extracting DNA from caves

Scientists are extracting DNA from caves

Elliot Turner, Reporter

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Scientists have developed a technique for extracting human DNA from ancient caves that could shape the way we view human evolution.

European researchers are working with the University of Wollongong on advanced extraction methods of human sediment.

Hominins are a group consisting of modern humans, extinct humans and all our immediate ancestors.

They have been able to identify the presence of hominins in caves, even when there are no human skeletal remains.

“By retrieving hominin DNA from sediments, we can detect the presence of hominin groups at sites where this cannot be achieved with other methods,” said Svante Paabo, Director of the Evolutionary Genetics Department at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig.

“I think this will become a standard tool in archaeology, maybe even like radiocarbon dating,” he told Science magazine.

The study was published in Science magazine and found that strands of mitochondrial DNA had been extracted from sediment with fascinating results. The sediment was found in the same layers where fossilised remains of ancient hominins had been discovered.

The first caves that were studied were the Denisova and Chagyrskaya caves in Siberia. These caves have shown the presence of Neanderthals and Denisovans with evidence of fossilised remains.

This research was also applied to the Trou Al’Wesse cave in Belgium. They found Neanderthal DNA here but no fossilised remains.

“Where archaeologists had found Neanderthal remains, the Max Planck geneticists found Neanderthal DNA. Where they had found Denisovan remains, they found Denisovan DNA,” said Professor Zenobia Jacobs from the University of Wollongong.

Professor Jacobs is a geochronologist, a scientist who examines the age of soil, sediment and rocks.

“They can look at molecular clock estimates of the DNA, but that’s pretty imprecise,” said Professor Jacobs.

“You really need to date the sediments that are associated with the DNA to get a robust chronological control.”

The researchers studied seven sites in Belgium, Croatia, France, Spain and Russia, covering a time span from 14,000 to 550,000 years ago.

The researchers are optimistic these new techniques may shed light on the genetic history of several ancient archaeological sites.

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Scientists Extract DNA From Ancient Caves