Antarctica: Researchers discover oldest DNA found so far in marine sediments

sediments from the depths of the sea
Million-year-old DNA found in Antarctica

Off the coast of Antarctica, a research team uncovers the genome of creatures that lived a million years ago. This makes it the oldest DNA found in marine sediments to date. The discovery could also provide insight into the consequences of current climate change.

A research team led by the University of Tasmania has discovered genetic material in the deep sea near Antarctica which is already one million years old. According to the researchers, this is the oldest marine DNA, said the University of Bonn, whose researchers were involved in the discovery. The study was published in the journal “Nature Communications”. According to the researchers, the results show that DNA in deep-sea sediments (SedaDNA) may pave the way for studying the long-term responses of marine ecosystems to climate change.

Seafloor DNA was obtained during the IODP 382 “Iceberg Alley and Subantarctic Ice and Ocean Dynamics” expedition in 2019.

(Photo: Michael Weber)

“This is by far the oldest authenticated marine SedaDNA,” says Linda Armbrecht, who led the study at the University of Tasmania. Among the organisms discovered were diatoms whose DNA could be traced back up to half a million years. The sediments analyzed were obtained during an expedition in 2019.

DNA analysis of ancient sediments is a new technique that helps decipher which creatures existed in the sea and when in the past. Furthermore, the timing of major changes in sediment composition can be linked to climate change. These findings can help make predictions about how marine creatures around Antarctica will react to current and future climate change.

Diatoms are abundant during hot periods

The data revealed that diatoms were abundant during periods of warm weather. The last such change in the Scottish Sea food web occurred about 14,500 years ago. “This is an interesting and important change related to rapid global sea level rise and massive ice loss in Antarctica due to natural warming,” said Michael Weber, co-author of the study at the University of Bonn. Warming has apparently led to increased marine productivity around Antarctica.

According to the researchers, the findings will also help assess current and future changes in marine life around the frozen continent. Antarctica is one of the most vulnerable regions on earth due to climate change. Research into the past and present reactions of the polar marine ecosystem to environmental and climate changes is therefore of crucial importance, according to the University of Bonn statement.

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