Experts Extract Whole Human Genome From Historic ‘Chewing Gum’ : Shots – Health and fitness News – NPR


A piece of birch pitch from Syltholm, in southern Denmark, has proved to be a amazing resource of historical human DNA.

Theis Jensen/Character Communications


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Theis Jensen/Mother nature Communications

A piece of birch pitch from Syltholm, in southern Denmark, has proved to be a extraordinary source of historical human DNA.

Theis Jensen/Character Communications

The darkish very little blob would be simple to ignore at an archaeological web-site.

Hannes Schroeder, a paleogeneticist at the University of Copenhagen, says a university student introduced it to him from a Stone Age site in Denmark and experienced a question: “Can we get DNA out of this?”

Schroeder remembers replying: “We really don’t know, haven’t seriously tried using, so let’s give it a go.”

The researchers feel ancient people today chewed the black-brown substance, recognised as birch pitch, which “was attained by heating birch bark,” Schroeder states. He states it’s not crystal clearwhythey chewed the pitch, but it was possible to soften it up right before employing it as a kind of glue to adhere sharp points onto weapons or equipment. They could have even applied it for medicinal applications, these kinds of as a suffering remedy for toothaches, simply because it is a mild antiseptic.

These were clues that the little bit of “chewing gum” may possibly comprise DNA, but the scientists anticipated it to be difficult. Following all, “it’s even now pretty demanding to get a finish historical human genome from human remains,” Schroeder claims.

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But the DNA sequencing went betterthan anyone could have anticipated. The researchers had been capable to reconstruct a entire human genome. Schroeder suggests this is the initial time that an entire historical human genome has been extracted from just about anything other than human bones or tooth. The team posted its findings in the journal Mother nature Communications.

Theis Jensen from the College of Copenhagen, who was doing work at the archaeological site, said in a assertion that “almost all the things is sealed in mud, which indicates that the preservation of organic and natural remains is totally phenomenal.”

The DNA recovered from the gum tells us a ton about this female who lived about five,seven-hundred decades in the past. The researchers could figure out what she most likely looked like: “She had this truly putting mixture of dim hair and dark pores and skin and blue eyes,” Schroeder states.

An creative reconstruction of the girl whose DNA was extracted from the birch pitch.

Tom Björklund/Mother nature Communications


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Tom Björklund/Mother nature Communications

All those attributes have been frequent to other hunter-gatherers at the time in this place, he provides, which is now an island in Denmark named Lolland. He says the woman’s ancestors had been hunter-gatherers from continental Europe.

She does not have any traces of ancestry from a group that experienced a extremely diverse way of life — farmers. Agricultural communities were being commencing to spring up in Northern Europe at the time.

This suggests that “there ended up pockets of hunter-gatherers that survived in distinctive parts of Northern Europe in the Neolithic,” he suggests, referring to the afterwards section of the Stone Age.

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Beyond her DNA, the researchers were also able to extract historic microbes from her mouth that ended up sealed in the historic gum. They observed traces of the Epstein-Barr virus, which can trigger infectious mononucleosis. They also extracted remnants of what could have been the woman’s previous food — duck and hazelnuts.

Schroeder claims it’s one of a kind to have DNA, traces of oral microbes and clues about diet plan all from a solitary particular person. “It can be truly a wealthy image from this variety of inconspicuous, modest lump of birch resin.”

Christina Warinner, a molecular archaeologist at Harvard University, claims she thinks it was amazingly innovative to check out to recuperate genetic information and facts from the historic “chewing gum.” She uncovered it hanging “just how considerably human DNA there was — mainly because in many cases there are points that we discover some human DNA in, but ordinarily it can be pretty, very small quantities.”

She states that at this issue, experts have been equipped to accumulate hundreds of historical human genomes. “So each individual genome contributes to this more substantial tale, and as we get more and far more facts, we are capable to reconstruct so significantly a lot more about the human past than we at any time could just before.”

Warinner states the chewing gum uncover claims a large amount about the technological revolution occurring in her field right now. As the engineering receives more robust, “we are commencing to understand that much much more of the previous is preserved than we at any time assumed,” she suggests.

Warinner not long ago tried using analyzing chewed-up stems from a cave in Mexico, while sad to say very little data was preserved. As technologies has drastically improved, sheclaims, researchers should really be striving to test for DNA extra objects that they uncover on archaeological web pages.

“It gives me inspiration to go out and start out seeking for extra of these strange contexts in which we might discover appealing info,” Warinner states.

A really lofty legacy for a piece of gum.