Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Prehistoric puma feces reveals oldest parasite DNA ever recorded

The oldest parasite DNA ever recorded has been found in the ancient, desiccated feces of a puma

Date: August 27, 2019
Source: Cambridge University Press

A team of Argentinian scientists from the National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET) made the discovery after studying a coprolite taken from a rock-shelter in the country's mountainous Catamarca Province, where the remains of now extinct megafauna have previously been recovered in stratigraphic excavations.

Radiocarbon dating revealed that the coprolite and thus the parasitic roundworm eggs preserved inside dated back to between 16,570 and 17,000 years ago, towards the end of the last Ice Age.

At that time, the area around the shelter at Peñas de las Trampas in the southern Andean Puna was thought to have been wetter than today, making it a suitable habitat for megafauna like giant ground sloths, and also smaller herbivores like American horses and South American camelids which the pumas may have preyed on.

Ancient mitochondrial DNA analysis was used to confirm the coprolite came from a Puma (Puma concolor) and that the eggs belonged to Toxascaris leonina, a species of roundworm still commonly found in the digestive systems of modern day cats, dogs and foxes.

The study, published in the journal Parasitology, explains that the extremely dry, cold and salty conditions which took hold at the Peñas de las Trampas site since the onset of the Holocene would have helped to reduce the breakdown of the DNA, allowing it to be preserved.


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