Ancient DNA holds clues to climate change adaptation

Oz Research of Note (in progress)

Thirty-thousand-year-old bison bones discovered in permafrost at a Canadian goldmine are helping scientists unravel the mystery about how animals adapt to rapid environmental change. They are playing a key role in a world-first study, led by Australian researchers, which analyses special genetic modifications that turn genes on and off, without altering the DNA sequence itself.

These ‘epigenetic’ changes can occur rapidly between generations – without requiring the time for standard evolutionary processes, and they could explain how animal species are able to respond to rapid climate change. The researchers have shown that it is possible to accurately measure epigenetic modifications in extinct animals and populations. They measured epigenetic modifications in 30,000-year-old permafrost bones from the Yukon, and compared them to those in modern-day cattle, and a 30-year-old mummified cow from New Zealand.

Prof Alan Cooper, Australian Centre for Ancient DNA, University of Adelaide