(CN) – The oldest known DNA to ever be recorded was recently discovered in the dung of a prehistoric puma, according to a study published Tuesday.
The study, published in the journal Parasitology, details how a research team in Argentina made up of scientists hailing from several vocational backgrounds studied a small, rare piece of fossilized feces from the Catamarca Province. They discovered trapped within the fossil DNA from parasites that predated the oldest known parasite DNA by several thousand years, likely dating back to between 16,570 and 17,000 years ago.
The study used DNA analysis of the dung to deduce that it originally came from a puma, a predator common to the area at the time, and that the DNA found in its dung was a type of parasite commonly known as roundworm, a parasite strain that still exists to this day.
Researchers believe the climate of the area played a crucial role in allowing the DNA to be preserved in the fossil since the conclusion of the last Ice Age. They suggest the high salt-content of the environment, coupled with low temperatures and a dry climate, helped to keep the dung protected from environmental degradation for an extraordinary length of time.
Romina Petrigh, co-author of the study and biologist at the National University of Mar del Plata, and the research team say this discovery marks several notable firsts in the scientific community.
“The present work represents the oldest record of a DNA sequence for a gastrointestinal nematode parasite of wild mammals, and in fact the oldest molecular parasite record worldwide, and also a new maximum age for the recovery of old DNA of this origin,” the authors write in the study.
The researchers believe the dating of the DNA also offers some up several crucial observations regarding the presence of parasites in prehistoric time periods. These parasites posed very real threats to local predators of the area as well as the earliest human explorers, threats that likely had a significant impact on Earth’s earliest history.
Petrigh did not respond to request for immediate comment by press time.