SCIENTISTS HAVE found the oldest parasite DNA ever recorded. The discovery was made in the “coprolite” of a prehistoric puma in Argentina. Coprolites are fossilised faeces belonging to animals that lived millions of years ago.
Scientists can analyse and study their shape and size and depending on the location they were found in, they can figure out the animal from which they came as well as uncover what those animals ate, London’s Natural Museum of History explains.
For instance, if there are bone fragments in the faeces, it tells scientists that the animal might have been a carnivore. Tooth marks can reveal how the animal ate.
A team of scientists from Argentina’s National Council of Scientific and Technical Research studied a prehisoric puma’s coprolite taken from a rock-shelter in Catamarca province. With the help of carbon dating, they were able to estimate the age of the coprolite at between 16,500-17,000 years.
Using ancient mitochondrial DNA analysis, they were able to confirm that the coprolite came out of a puma. This led to the identification of the oldest parasite DNA found yet. Parasite DNA has been found in coprolites before, but this is the oldest since the evidence found earlier dated back to a few thousand years ago only.
The study is published in the journal Parasitology.