• Science

Scientists find 2-million-year-old DNA in Greenland

COPENHAGEN (AFP-Jiji) — Scientists in Greenland announced last month they had found DNA dating back 2 million years — the oldest ever extracted — in sediment from the Ice Age, opening a new chapter in paleogenetics.

“We are breaking the barrier of what we thought we could reach in terms of genetic studies,” said Mikkel Winther Pedersen, coauthor of a new study published in science journal Nature.

“It was long thought that 1 million years was the boundary of DNA survival, but now we are twice as old” as that, Pedersen told AFP.

They found the DNA fragments in sediment from the northernmost part of Greenland known as Kap Copenhagen, said the University of Copenhagen lecturer.

The fragments “come from an environment that we do not see anywhere on Earth today,” he added. Frozen in a remote unpopulated area, the DNA had been very well preserved.

New technology enabled the scientists to determine that the 41 fragments were more than a million years older than the oldest known DNA, from a Siberian mammoth.

They had to first determine whether there was DNA hidden in the clay and quartz, then see whether it could be removed from the sediment to examine it.

The method used “provides a fundamental understanding of why minerals, or sediments, can preserve DNA,” said Karina Sand, who heads the geobiology team at the University of Copenhagen and who took part in the study.

“It’s a Pandora’s box we’re just about to open up,” she added.