Genome of 5,700-year-old woman reconstructed using her chewing gum
The DNA sample extracted from the gum is equivalent to taking genetic information from the teeth and skull bones of a person.
What do you think chewed up gum can tell about you? Scientists have recreated the entire genome of a 5,700 year-old-woman from chewed birch pitch.
Birch pitch is a tar-like substance distilled from heated tree bark. It can be used as an adhesive on stone tools and weapons and also chewed like a modern-day gum. This chewing gum contained the saliva of the person who chewed it which helped scientists in reconstructing their genetic information, all without any skeletal remains.
The person chewing the gum:
The DNA sample extracted from the gum is equivalent to taking genetic information from the teeth and skull bones of a person. This DNA sequence suggests that the person chewing it was a female with dark skin, brown hair, and blue eyes.
Data also suggests that she stemmed from mainland Europe and existed during a time of transition known as the Late Mesolithic Ertebølle culture (7300–5900 BCE), which gave way to early Neolithic Funnel Beaker culture (5900–5300 BCE).
DNA sequencing is the process of determining the order of nucleotides in DNA. Nucleotides are a type of molecules (a combination of atoms) that are also called the building block of DNA and RNA. It can be used to diagnose various cancers by comparing healthy and mutated DNA sequences. It can help in individualised medical care and identify and catalogue organisms.
By sequencing the sample, the researchers not only discovered the ancient human DNA but also microbial DNA reflecting the oral microbiome of the person who chewed the pitch, along with plant and animal DNA that could correspond to a recent meal consumed by the individual.
Scientists sequencing the sample discovered the ancient human DNA and microbial DNA that reflects the oral microbiome of the person. Remains of plant and animal DNA also points to clues about the meal the person had before chewing the gum.
The team of researchers say, "The DNA is so exceptionally well preserved that we were able to recover a complete ancient human genome from the sample… which is particularly significant since, so far, no human remains have been recovered from the site."
This DNA information can increase our knowledge about the population history, health status and livelihood strategies of the population.
What else do we know about her?
The data suggests that she falls on the hunter-gatherer side instead of having a farmer ancestry. Researchers suggest that this might be because of the slow development of agriculture in the region.
How can it help?
Hannes Schroeder, the lead researcher and evolutionary genomicist from the University of Copenhagen says, "It can help us understand how pathogens have evolved and spread over time, and what makes them particularly virulent in a given environment."
"At the same time, it may help predict how a pathogen will behave in the future, and how it might be contained or eradicated," he added.