(ORDO NEWS) — Discovered by scientists under the Scotia Sea, north of Antarctica, fragments of organic material could be invaluable in understanding the history of the region and what lived in the ocean at different times.
The recovered samples are likely to reveal how climate change could affect Antarctica in the future.
“This is the oldest authenticated DNA to date,” says marine ecologist Linda Armbrecht of the University of Tasmania in Australia.
DNA has been found in many environments, including terrestrial caves and subarctic permafrost, which have preserved DNA that is 400,000 and 650,000 years old, respectively.
Low temperatures, low oxygen levels, and a lack of ultraviolet radiation make polar marine environments suitable for DNA conservation.
The recovered DNA was recovered from the ocean floor in 2019 and went through a comprehensive contamination assessment process to ensure the age markers embedded in the material were accurate.
Among other finds, the team found diatoms (single-celled organisms) dating back 540,000 years. All this helps to understand how this part of the world has evolved over vast spans of time.
The team was able to link diatom abundance to warmer periods, the last of which in the Scotia Sea was about 14,500 years ago. This has led to an increase in the overall activity of marine life in the Antarctica region.
This latest study suggests that these DNA analysis techniques could be useful in restoring ecosystems over hundreds of thousands of years, giving us insight into how the oceans have changed.
Knowledge of past climate change will allow predictions to be made about what might happen next around the South Pole.
“Antarctica is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change on Earth, and studying the past and present responses of this polar marine ecosystem to environmental change is an urgent task,” the researchers write in their paper published in Nature Communications.
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