700,000-Year-Old Canadian Horse Fossil Genome Is Oldest DNA Ever Sequenced [REPORT]

By Philip Ross on June 27, 2013 1:50 PM EDT

horse fossil
Prehistoric horse DNA, recovered from the 700,000-year-old remains of a horse found in Canada, has been sequenced. It’s the oldest DNA map of an animal ever created. (Photo: Reuters)

Scientists announced Wednesday that the oldest gene map ever completed is that of a 700,000-year-old Canadian horse, discovered in the permafrost of Canada's Yukon Territory. According to AP, the horse fossil genome is nearly 10 times older than any other animal that has had its DNA sequenced.

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"Obviously [the discovery] opens great perspective as to the level of details we could reconstruct of our own origins," Ludovic Orlando, lead author of the study on the prehistoric horse remains, said. "And actually the evolutionary history of almost every species living in the world today."

The prehistoric horse was discovered in 2003 encased in permafrost in the Yukon, Canada's westernmost federal territory full of glacier-fed alpine lakes. Orlando and his colleagues from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark used DNA from a tiny, 6-inch fragment of bone from the 700,000-year-old horse.

The study of the prehistoric horse DNA and subsequent genome sequence was published Thursday in the journal Nature. Until scientists mapped the 700,000 horse DNA, the oldest recorded genome belonged to a 110,000-year-old polar bear.

According to Wired, the horse as we know it today is the result of over 4 million years of evolutionary history. "But this history is mostly a mystery," Wired reports. "We know surprisingly little about how natural selection and thousands of years of selective breeding by humans have shaped these animals on the genetic scale."

To determine how far back the Equine ancestry bloodline runs, researchers studied the genomes of a number of other horse species in addition to the 700,000-year-old one found in Canada. According to the Los Angeles Times, the team from Denmark also sequenced the DNA of a 43,000-year-old horse fossil, a wild Mongolian horse, a donkey from the Copenhagen Zoo, and fiver modern domesticated horses.

The main reason scientists were able to map a complete genome from the ancient Canadian horse is due to the well-preserved state of the specimen.

"We've known for a long time now that DNA preservation is exceptionally good in permafrost compared to other environments," Mark Stoneking, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, told the Los Angeles Times. "Unfortunately, with the exception of Otzi the Iceman, none of our ancestors have been so obliging as to die under circumstances where the remains are frozen soon after death and remain frozen until discovery."

Read more from iScience Times:

Mammoth Blood Found: Could Woolly Mammoth Be Brought Back To Life? Geneticist Hendrik Poinar Says Yes In TED Talk [WATCH]

Supreme Court On Genes: Human DNA Not Eligible For Patent Protection, Unless Synthetically Produced [VIDEO]

Gorilla Genome Sheds New Light on Human Evolution

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