Using DNA, scientists have created a picture of what Greenland looked like 2 million years ago. This is the first time such ancient DNA samples have been successfully analysed. The findings have been published in the leading scientific journal Nature.
These are DNA samples obtained from soil in the northern part of the island. Such material provides insight into the entire ecosystem of a given period. The samples contained DNA traces of all kinds of plants and animals.
Now the area is a polar desert with almost no vegetation, but millions of years ago the island had a diverse flora and fauna. DNA samples provide insight into a unique prehistoric landscape, scientists say.
‘There is no comparison now’
Professor Willerslev, of the Universities of Cambridge and Copenhagen, says the ecosystem back then cannot be compared to any other ecosystem today.
Among others, the extinct mastodon – a cross between a mammoth and an elephant – once lived in Greenland. Conifers, birches and poplars also grew there.
The material also shows that climate change also occurred during that period. Temperatures were much higher than now, about 11 to 19 degrees warmer. Further research in the future could provide insight into what the world faces when climate change comes.
Scientists don’t yet know what Greenland was like millions of years ago because DNA decays over time, and animal and plant fossils are rarely found there. Before this study was conducted, only fossils showed that dung beetles and rabbits once lived in the area, Willerslev said. Against the BBC.
Thanks to technological developments, the research team succeeded in extracting information from damaged DNA fragments. This was compared to already known genetic material from animals and plants.
Already discovered in 2006
The samples are obtained from deposits of the reef at the northern tip of Greenland. They were taken from a shallow fjord as early as 2006, but the technology was not yet advanced enough to analyze them.
“You really get a broader picture of what the ecosystem looked like at a certain time,” said one of the researchers.
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