Scientists Find Ancient Sea Turtle Fossil Dating Back 6 Million Years With Preserved DNA Traces

by Mallika Khurana
Scientists Find Ancient Sea Turtle Fossil Dating Back 6 Million Years With Preserved DNA Traces

On the sun-soaked sands of Panama’s Caribbean coast, a fascinating discovery has emerged from the depths of time. Imagine unearthing the remnants of an ancient sea turtle, a creature that roamed our planet around 6 million years ago, in a state of near-perfect preservation. This extraordinary find, involving fossilised DNA remnants, offers a captivating window into the mysteries of the past and the remarkable resilience of genetic information. 

6-Million Year Old Sea Turtle Fossil Contains DNA Remnants

As per the reports from Reuters via Daily Sabah, the excavation took place along Panama’s Caribbean coast in 2015. It yielded a partial fossil with a relatively complete carapace (shell) of the ancient turtle, which would have been approximately one foot (30 cm) long in its living state. In a study published in the Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology, lead author Edwin Cadena, a palaeontologist from the Universidad del Rosario in Bogota and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, revealed that some of the fossil’s bone cells, known as osteocytes, were remarkably well preserved. 

The preservation was so exceptional that the researchers were able to detect remnants of DNA in the cell nuclei of these osteocytes. However, it’s important to note that they did not extract DNA. Instead, they identified the presence of DNA traces in the nuclei.

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Fossil Sheds Light On Genetic History

DNA is typically highly perishable, but under specific conditions, it can be preserved in ancient remains. As per the reports from Reuters via Daily Sabah, researchers recently found DNA from various organisms dating back to about 2 million years ago in sediment from Greenland’s remote northernmost region.

The ancient sea turtle belongs to the Lepidochelys genus. It includes two of the seven extant species of sea turtles: Kemp’s ridley and the olive ridley. The Kemp’s ridley is the world’s smallest sea turtle and is primarily found in the Gulf of Mexico. Whereas, the olive ridley has a broader distribution, inhabiting tropical regions of the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans.

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This fossil discovery represents the oldest-known member of the Lepidochelys genus. It provides valuable insights into the poorly understood evolutionary history of this group. The researchers could not identify the species due to the incomplete nature of the remains. However, this finding opens the door to potential future studies that may involve sequencing small DNA fragments.

It will certainly expand our understanding of the molecular evolution of these ancient creatures.

Cover Image Courtesy: Canva