July 01, 2013
Implications For Sequencing 700,000 Year Old Horse DNA

The successful sequencing of DNA from a 700,000 year old fossil dug up in Canada's Yukon Territory has some geneticists claiming they can go all the way back 1 million years and reconstruct ancient DNA. How cool is that?

What's key here: frozen places that have been frozen for a very long time are big refrigerators that preserve DNA. A dig into the frozen soil of Alaska, Yukon, Northwest Territory, Greenland, or northern Siberia is a trip back into genetic time. Any species which went extinct in the last million years in far northern zones can probably be brought back to life in the 2020s or 2030s.

If any of the animals that went extinct at the end of the last ice age exist frozen in permafrost then we have some interesting prospects we could resurrect:

This includes animals such as the mammoth and mastodon, the American lion, saber-toothed cats such as Smilodon and Homotherium, giant sloths, giant birds such as the Moa, gorilla-sized lemurs such as Archaeoindris, an 8 foot long tortoise called Meiolania, the large and aggressive wild ancestor of cattle the aurochs, the 30 foot long Stellarís Sea Cow, the giant short-faced bear...

Out of the extensive list of mammals that went extinct near the time humans showed up in North America surely more viable DNA samples will be found in Canadian and Alaskan permafrost.

What I'd like to know: did any interesting animals go extinct in North America during the middle Pleistocene (781 to 126 thousand years ago)? This latest success with horse DNA points to the possibility of bringing back species from that period.

Update: Fossils frozen in Siberia are potentially far more interesting than fossils frozen in Alaska or Canada. Why? Non-human Hominins from the Homo genus (e.g. neanderthals) ranged across Asia and Europe, but not the Americas. Humans came much later to North America as the first Hominids. We might be able to find enough good DNA samples of pre-human hominins. Imagine bringing back to life non-human hominin species. We could find out their instincts, intellectual abilities, and language abilities.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2013 July 01 10:58 PM 

Thomas Mazanec said at July 2, 2013 12:16 PM:

My guess is not very many, if any at all. The extinctions were almost certainly human caused, directly and indirectly. Natural extinction in the middle Pleistocene was probably rare, especially in the Americas and Australia where even Homo erectus was not present.

Sam said at July 3, 2013 1:41 AM:

If humans were responsible then why did the Woolly Mammoth die off in Siberia at the same time?


Maybe what ever caused the "Black Mat" caused their extinction. It separates the time of plentiful fossils to none of the fore mentioned species.



faruq said at July 7, 2013 8:36 AM:

cannabis is a fairly rubbish drug. maybe they can resurrecut a better herb to get high with. i wonder what the dinosaurs used to get stoned.

faruq said at July 9, 2013 8:37 AM:

I bet £1000 that SOME non-sapien hominids had superior intellectual abilties in fields such as music composition and even abstract mathematics.

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