Scientists have revealed the existence of an ecosystem in Greenland dating back about 2 million years, thanks to the DNA analysis they have done.
In an article published in Nature on December 7, 2022, it was stated that important clues were obtained for the Early Pleistocene ecosystem of Greenland. Many plant and animal species that lived in Greenland 2 million years ago were identified by examining DNA fragments found on a peninsula called Peary Land in northern Greenland. In the article, it was stated that the region in question was at least 10°C warmer on average in those years than today.
The discovery was made by a team of scientists from Denmark, England, France, Sweden, Norway, the USA and Germany, led by evolutionary geneticist Eske Willerslev and geogeneticist Kurt H. Kjær. By examining environmental DNA fragments from five different organic-rich sites within the Kap København Formation, scientists proved that many animal and plant species were part of the Northern Greenland ecosystem 2 million years ago. Reindeer, hares, mastodon, poplar, thuja and birch are among these species.
Environmental DNA: DNA samples collected from environmental materials such as soil, sea, glacier, and even air.
Paleontologists interpreted the spread of mastodons, belonging to the family Mammutidae, as far as Greenland as a surprise discovery. It was previously thought that mastodons lived predominantly in North America. However, based on DNA analysis, it can now be said that Mastodons and reindeer once lived in Greenland, and there was at least enough vegetation to feed them.
The research also showed that under suitable conditions, DNA fragments can remain intact for up to 2 million years. This has been interpreted as “groundbreaking” by many evolutionary biologists and geneticists. It was stated that it is possible to obtain new information about the origin of many species, perhaps even early humans, if DNA fragments that have survived to the present day can be found in clay grains in Africa.
DNA Data May Help Genetic Engineers
Kurt H. Kjær said he hopes DNA samples can help genetic engineers make more species resistant to a warming climate. Because the data in question shows that many more species can adapt to changing temperatures than previously thought.
Studies show that the region where the DNA fragments were collected was at least 10°C higher on average than today, and a climate between arctic and temperate climate prevails. Geogeneticist Mikkel Winther Pedersen said he expects a similar climate to prevail in Greenland in the future due to global warming.
- A 2-million-year-old ecosystem in Greenland uncovered by environmental DNA, Nature, December 7, 2022