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Ancient genes may help plants adapt to a warmer climate

Ancient genes may help plants adapt to a warmer climate

Danish evolutionary biologist Eske Willerslev broke the existing record by one million years when he was able to map DNA from soil samples from the Arctic desert in Greenland.

– When everyone was looking for DNA in fossils and bone remains and discovered one species at a time, I was looking in the soil for everything, says Eski Willerslev on the programme.

He began taking soil samples to extract DNA more than 20 years ago. But because the DNA fragments in the samples were very degraded and short, he could not determine which species they came from.

Powerful computers

A doctoral student at Eski University came up with the idea of ​​using so-called shotgun sequencing, which can be used to identify and reconstruct genomes from very short DNA sequences.

“Only now do we have computers powerful enough to be able to handle these short DNA fragments,” says Eski Willerslev.

He likens it to having a novel broken down into short sentences and word sequences, which you then try to match to the contents of a large library, book by book.

“I was shocked when I saw the result”

The research team was able to find an entire ecosystem among DNA fragments in soil from the Arctic desert in Greenland.

-I was shocked when I saw the results. We never thought it would be possible to find DNA from such ancient ecosystems. We have now seen the last Arctic forest dating back to a time when the world was warmer, before the Ice Age, says paleontologist Natalia Rynzinski.

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Researchers now hope to go back in time even further, to find the keys to survival in a warmer future.

– Natalia Rybzemsky says life around us has its evolutionary roots in a warmer world.

See the world of science at Play SVT Or on SVT 2 Mondays at 8 p.m.