Complete Human Genome Extracted from Ancient ‘Chewing Gum’

University of Copenhagen

Copenhagen researchers make startling discovery

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen have succeeded in extracting a complete human genome from a thousands-of-years old “chewing gum,” marking the first time that an entire ancient human genome has been extracted from anything other than human bones. 

During excavations on Lolland last year, archaeologists uncovered a 5,700-year-old type of “chewing gum” made from birch pitch. In a new study, researchers from the University of Copenhagen succeeded in extracting a complete ancient human genome from the pitch.

The new research results have been published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

“It is amazing to have gotten a complete ancient human genome from anything other than bone,” says Associate Professor Hannes Schroeder from the Globe Institute, University of Copenhagen, who led the research.

‘What is more, we also retrieved DNA from oral microbes and several important human pathogens, which makes this a very valuable source of ancient DNA, especially for time periods where we have no human remains,’ Hannes Schroeder adds.

Based on the ancient human genome, the researchers could tell that the birch pitch was chewed by a female. She was genetically closely related to hunter-gatherers from mainland Europe. They also found that she probably had dark skin, dark hair and blue eyes.

The birch pitch was found during archaeological excavations at Syltholm in southern Denmark. The excavations are being carried out by the Museum Lolland-Falster in connection with the construction of the Fehmarn tunnel.


“Syltholm is completely unique. Almost everything is sealed in mud, which means that the preservation of organic remains is absolutely phenomenal,” says Theis Jensen, Postdoc at the Globe Institute, who worked on the study for his PhD and also participated in the excavations at Syltholm.

“It is the biggest Stone Age site in Denmark and the archaeological finds suggest that the people who occupied the site were heavily exploiting wild resources well into the Neolithic, which is the period when farming and domesticated animals were first introduced into southern Scandinavia.”

In addition, the researchers succeeded in extracting DNA from several oral microbiota from the pitch, including many commensal species and opportunistic pathogens.

SOURCE: Science Daily

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