Ancient Horse Found in Canada Reveals Oldest DNA Ever Sequenced


Scientists have sequenced the DNA of a frozen horse discovered in Canada’s Yukon Territory in 2003 and discovered the oldest DNA ever sequenced. The new methodologies used by the researchers confirmed that the genus Equus dates back more than 4 million years — twice as long as scientists previously believed.

“Previous to this, the oldest genome ever sequenced was of a 120,000-year-old polar bear — no small feat considering that the half-life of a DNA molecule is estimated to be about 521 years. — Dr. Ludovic Orlando of the University of Copenhagen

The fact that the remains were frozen helped slow the rate of decay. But they also “targeted specific DNA preservation niches,” he said, like the protein called collagen found in the animal’s bones, which is more DNA-rich than other tissues.

“But also we pioneered the usage of what is called true Single Molecular Sequencing that basically reads through molecules as they stand, without further manipulation,” Orlando added.

By tracking a full, single DNA molecule, the team was able to avoid having to “amplify” fragments, which can often introduce errors. The team then compared it against the genome of a 43,000-year old horse, modern domestic horse breeds, and the Przewalski’s horse, which is the last surviving population of wild horses. These full-genome comparisons allowed the scientists to construct “a molecular clock” that revealed benchmarks in the horse’s evolutionary history.

The DNA-decoding methods used on the ancient horse could potentially be used on early human ancestors next and could reveal how human species like Homo heidelbergensis may have been related genetically to Homo neandertalensis and modern humans.

Read more about the findings here.

2 thoughts on “Ancient Horse Found in Canada Reveals Oldest DNA Ever Sequenced

  1. Dr. Orlando is wrong. First, there is no such thing as a ‘half life’ for DNA. Half life is a term used for radioactive substances such as uranium. Radioactive substances deteriorate at a pre determined rate. For instance, the half life of uranium (the time it takes for half of a amount of uranium) to turn into lead, is millions of years.
    Secondly, properly preserved DNA can last millions of years. The Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes have been elucidated from DNA sequestered in teeth…and we all know that the Neanderthals went extinct 40K years ago. Indeed, Tyrannosaurus rex DNA has been sequenced from bones found in the Hell’s Creek Formation in Montana, making it no less than 65 million years old. By the way, the closest living relative to T. Rex is …the common chicken. Think of that the next time you have eggs for breakfast!
    That being said, I think Orlando misspoke. It may be that the DNA found was the oldest found for a HORSE. I find it strange that he didn’t mention that horses (and camels, and dogs) evolved here, in what is now North America.

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