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Diverse Plant and Animal Genetic Records from Holocene and Pleistocene Sediments

Science  02 May 2003:
Vol. 300, Issue 5620, pp. 791-795
DOI: 10.1126/science.1084114

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Abstract

Genetic analyses of permafrost and temperate sediments reveal that plant and animal DNA may be preserved for long periods, even in the absence of obvious macrofossils. In Siberia, five permafrost cores ranging from 400,000 to 10,000 years old contained at least 19 different plant taxa, including the oldest authenticated ancient DNA sequences known, and megafaunal sequences including mammoth, bison, and horse. The genetic data record a number of dramatic changes in the taxonomic diversity and composition of Beringian vegetation and fauna. Temperate cave sediments in New Zealand also yielded DNA sequences of extinct biota, including two species of ratite moa, and 29 plant taxa characteristic of the prehuman environment. Therefore, many sedimentary deposits may contain unique, and widespread, genetic records of paleoenvironments.

  • * These authors contributed equally to this work.

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