The Siberian Cave is a treasure trove of DNA | BNR News Radio

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute have successfully isolated prehistoric human DNA from loose soil samples from Denisova Cave in Siberia, Russia. It’s the first map showing when hominins used the cave in the past 300,000 years.

The Siberian Cave turns out to be a treasure trove of DNA

Earlier, a bone of a thirteen-year-old girl was found in the cave, which contains DNA from a Neanderthal father as well as the genetic material of a Denisova mother. Hybrid, or as Leiden archaeologist Will Robrox puts it: “In fact, we are all rubbish bins.”

Researcher Elena Zavala of the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig led the process. Extracting human DNA from soil is very difficult. Using the latest machinery and technology, we have succeeded in isolating DNA from small pieces of soil. Soil contains microscopic parts of urine, feces, and bone particles.

“We actually have a kind of magnet that traps the bits of DNA we want from the broth of material,” Zavala says.

small spoons of soil

The technology of hunting human DNA from soil samples has a great future. Next week, a team of archaeologists will travel to a cave in Dordogne, France, to chart how modern humans ended up in Europe. Was that a move into our territories, or were new groups joining the first modern humans all along? Since you don’t need skeletons to prove human existence, just a teaspoon of soil, expectations are high.

Either way, scientists will be busy for decades only analyzing data from Denisova Cave. Archaeologist Will Robrook: “My profession is more interesting than it was forty years ago.”

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Read more here: DNA from Ice Age sediments from Denisova Cave.

Megan Vasquez

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