Ancient bear DNA

Scientists Sequence Ancient Bear Genetic Code from Dirt

A few grams of DNA from an ancient bear left behind in dirt on a cave floor allowed scientists to sequence complete genetic codes. No fossil remains were necessary. It’s a first-time achievement being compared to the “Moon landing of genomics,” reports ScienceAlert.

“…this is the Moon landing of genomics because fossils will no longer be needed,” said geneticist Eske Willerslev.

Researchers studied soil from the Chiquihuite Cave in Mexico. The cave is in the Astillero Mountains, 9000 feet above sea level and thousands of feet above a valley floor.

Some 16,000 years ago, during the Upper Paleolithic, the American black bear and an extinct huge “short-faced bear,” Arctodus simus, lived in the area. 

Arctodus, a monstrous ancient bear, could stand 11 feet tall and weigh over 1,000 kilos (2204 pounds). Compared to today’s Grizzly bears, they towered over them, had longer front legs, and could possibly run 45 mph for sustained periods.

Below, you can see the “Ice Age Monster” called the short-faced bear from HISTORY:

Ancient Bear Scat

The scientists know the ancient bears were there, in part because the bears left behind waste and urine. Amazingly, genetic material contained in the bear scat remained intact after thousands of years. 

“We have shown that hair, urine, and feces all provide genetic material which, in the right conditions, can survive for much longer than 10,000 years,” said Denmark geneticist Eske Willerslev.

Willerslev says he believes the team has opened up a new frontier by unlocking the ability to reconstruct genomes from fragments found in soil. So far, they have sequenced two bears species and found DNA from mice, bats, voles, and kangaroo rats. 

Thanks to advances in the last five years, the researchers could piece together the code.

“Basically, the scientists patched together the complete ancient genome using modern and extinct bears as templates—think about using a model of a bottlenose dolphin as a guide to assemble the body parts of a killer whale. The parts aren’t exactly alike, but both animals have a dorsal fin and a blowhole,” wrote Caroline Delbert.

Now, the teams say the same techniques will likely reveal entirely new Stone Age stories worldwide.

The Chiquihuite Cave – ‘America’s Oldest Hotel’

Notably, Chiquihuite Cave is the same location where greenish, black stone artifacts were found that could ‘drastically change the known timeline of humans’ arrival to the Americas,’ as Smithsonian reported in July 2020. 

Some of the “oldest human evidence in the world” has been found in the cave, states Popular Mechanics. The Mexican cave has been called “America’s Oldest Hotel” by some.

Sediment samples and adjacent animal bones were tested, leading scientists to believe people entered America 30,000 years ago. (The date was generally thought to be no more than 16,000 years) If they did, they managed to get around massive sheets of ice during the Last Glacial Maximum. Or, perhaps they arrived before the glaciers? So far, nobody knows for sure.

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Interestingly, the tested sediments revealed many ancient plants and animal DNA but no verified human DNA.

“Until we would have DNA available, there’s nothing to tell us who these people were or where they came from,” said study author Ciprian Ardelean. 

However, Ardelean believes it’s possible diverse people arrived in the area, arriving from “multiple directions.” Perhaps, ancient humans only stayed in the cave for a short time, leaving behind only their stone implements. One wonders if they left when they discoverd giant bears in the cave?

Recommended: Scientists Discover a Switch Causing a Gorilla’s Brain to Grow More Like a Human’s

See more about the Chiquihuite Cave, ‘America’s Oldest Hotel,’ via St. John’s College Cambridge below:

Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube/HISTORY