DEC 19, 2019 11:51 AM PST

Ancient Sample of Gum Yields Valuable Genetic Information

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

The Jurassic Park movie theorized that DNA could be extracted from the bloodmeal of an ancient mosquito trapped in amber, which is not a realistic idea. Now scientists have recovered very old DNA from an interesting place, however; a piece of chewing gum that’s 5,700 years old has yielded a sample of human DNA and microbes linked to humans. Researchers were excavating in Lolland, a Danish island, and uncovered the gum, made from birch pitch. The genomic DNA they found is a complete sequence, and it’s the first time that investigators have gotten a whole, ancient human genome from anything but bones. Their findings were reported in Nature Communications.

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen have succeeded in extracting a complete ancient human genome from a 5,700-year-old birch pitch. The image is an artistic reconstruction of the woman who chewed the birch pitch and has been named Lola. / Credit: Illustration by Tom Björklund

“It is amazing to have gotten a complete, ancient human genome from anything other than bone,” said the research leader, Associate Professor Hannes Schroeder from the Globe Institute at the University of Copenhagen. “What is more, we also retrieved DNA from oral microbes and several important human pathogens, which makes this a very valuable source of ancient DNA, especially for time periods where we have no human remains.”

An analysis of the genome showed that the gum chewer was female, and was more closely related, genetically, to mainland European hunter-gatherers than people living in Scandinavia at that time. They have determined that she probably had blue eyes, dark hair, and dark skin.

The excavation took place at a village called Syltholm in southern Denmark, and are being performed by the Museum Lolland-Falster. The work is linked to the construction of tunnel that will connect Lolland to Fehmarn Island in Germany.
 
“Syltholm is completely unique. Almost everything is sealed in mud, which means that the preservation of organic remains is absolutely phenomenal,” said excavation participant Theis Jensen, a postdoctoral researcher at the Globe Institute. “It is the biggest Stone Age site in Denmark and the archaeological finds suggest that the people who occupied the site were heavily exploiting wild resources well into the Neolithic, which is the period when farming and domesticated animals were first introduced into southern Scandinavia.”


 The DNA analysis reflected that; bits of duck and hazelnut DNA were found in the gum. The researchers also recovered DNA from microbes that live in the mouth; there were both normal members of the oral microbiome and opportunistic pathogens. DNA that might be linked to Epstein-Barr virus was also identified.

“The preservation is incredibly good, and we managed to extract many different bacterial species that are characteristic of an oral microbiome. Our ancestors lived in a different environment and had a different lifestyle and diet, and it is therefore interesting to find out how this is reflected in their microbiome,” Schroeder noted.

 Schroeder added that ancient samples of gum might be a huge help to research. “It can help us understand how pathogens have evolved and spread over time, and what makes them particularly virulent in a given environment. At the same time, it may help predict how a pathogen will behave in the future, and how it might be contained or eradicated,” Schroeder explained.

Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! via University of Copenhagen the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, Nature Communications

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
APR 26, 2020
Microbiology
APR 26, 2020
Researchers Design A Polio Vaccine That Won't Cause Polio
Sustained, intense efforts to vaccinate were getting the world very close to eradicating polio, but the vaccine itself o ...
MAY 01, 2020
Microbiology
MAY 01, 2020
Once Thought to Make COVID-19 Worse, ACE Inhibitors Now Tested as Therapeutic
Researchers were once concerned that blood pressure medications may increase the risk of infection, or make an infection ...
MAY 04, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
MAY 04, 2020
Molecular Tools Reveal More About the Impacts of the Slave Trade
Scientists still have a lot to learn about the numerous and varied consequences of the transatlantic slave trade, which ...
MAY 05, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
MAY 05, 2020
Preprint Suggests Sars-CoV-2 Mutation Makes it More Transmissable
Samples obtained from patients from all over the world have been used to sequence the genomes of the viral strains infec ...
MAY 27, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
MAY 27, 2020
A Deeper Understanding of How Some Bacterial Toxins Interact With Cells
The surfaces of cells are decorated with receptors, and the interactions between receptors and their binding partners ar ...
JUN 10, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
JUN 10, 2020
Does Your Gut Microbiota Alter Drug Activity?
Scientists have created a systematic way to evaluate how the microbial community in our gut influences drug behavior. Fi ...
Loading Comments...