Home » DNA traces were discovered in a six million-year-old sea turtle’s fossil

DNA traces were discovered in a six million-year-old sea turtle’s fossil

by OnverZe
161 comments

The turtle’s DNA is quite similar to that of modern-day Kemp’s ridley and olive ridley turtles, and it would have been around a foot (30 cm) long when it was alive.

One of the few times genetic material has been identified in such old fossils of a vertebrate, a sea turtle closely related to the Kemp’s ridley and olive ridley turtles of today, has DNA remnants found in fossilised remains dating to 6 million years ago.

DNA traces were discovered in a six million-year-old sea turtle's fossil

The fossil, which was discovered in 2015 along Panama’s Caribbean coast, had some bone cells known as osteocytes that were wonderfully preserved, according to the researchers. A relatively full carapace—the turtle’s shell—but not the remainder of the skeleton—make up the fragmentary fossil. They estimated that the turtle would have been roughly a foot (30 cm) long when it was alive.

Edwin Cadena, a palaeontologist, is the study’s lead author. The study was published in the Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology. “In some of the osteocytes, the cell nuclei were preserved and reacted to a chemical solution, allowing the researchers to recognise the presence of remnants of DNA,” he said.

I want to emphasise that we did not extract DNA; rather, we were only able to detect DNA remnants in the nuclei, said Cadena of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the Universidad del Rosario in Bogota.

Although DNA is very fragile, under the correct circumstances, it can be retained in some ancient remnants. At the farthest northernmost region of Greenland, scientists last year reported finding DNA from animals, plants, and bacteria dating to around 2 million years ago in sediment.

According to Cadena, only two dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus, which lived approximately 66 million years ago, and Brachylophosaurus, which lived around 78 million years ago, had older vertebrate remains than the recently reported turtle that had been recovered with comparable DNA fragments. According to Cadena, insects from tens of millions of years ago have also been found to contain DNA traces.

The Kemp’s ridley, the smallest sea turtle in the world, and the olive ridley are two of the seven living species of sea turtles that belong to the same genus, Lepidochelys, according to Cadena. A triangular-headed bird with a beak that is somewhat hooked, the Kemp’s ridley is mostly found in the Gulf of Mexico. The olive ridley, which resembles the Kemp’s ridley in appearance, has a wider geographic range and is mostly found in tropical areas of the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic seas.

According to the researchers, the fossil illustrates the earliest-known member of the genus Lepidochelys and sheds information on the little known evolutionary history of this group. Because the bones were too fragmentary, they were unable to distinguish it by species, according to Cadena.

“Each fossil, each fossil site, has specific preservation conditions that, in some cases, could have favoured preservation of original biomolecular remains, such as proteins and DNA,” said Cadena.

We could eventually be able to sequence extremely little amounts of DNA and draw conclusions about their near relatives or incorporate that knowledge into a more comprehensive molecular evolutionary research, said Cadena. “Perhaps in the future and with more studies of this kind, we could be able to at some point,” he said.

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