Some of the secrets of evolution could be found in the molar teeth of three mammoths that roamed northeastern Siberia — two of them more than a million years ago.
A research team on Wednesday published a study in the journal Nature detailing the successful collection of DNA from fossilized mammoths, making it by far the oldest genetic material ever studied.
And its age is only part of its importance. Scientists said they can compare the DNA samples to reveal how the genetics of an earlier species changed as it evolved into a later species, also known as speciation.
“This is the first time that anyone has ever sampled before and after a speciation event, to trace the genomic changes that happen during speciation,” said Love Dalén, a professor in evolutionary genetics at the Centre for Palaeogenetics in Stockholm and an author of the study.
The oldest “ancient DNA” previously recovered was from the remains of a Siberian horse about half as old as the mammoths.
The study describes research on the fossils of three mammoths unearthed in the 1970s by Russian paleontologists. They’ve since been kept in archaeological collections, and the new study used DNA extracted from their molar teeth, Dalén said.