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Scientists recover DNA from 700,000-year-old horse


A group of researchers have successfully sequenced the genome of a 700,000-year-old horse whose foot was found buried in the permafrost in the Yukon.

Comparing that sequence to the genomes of a 43,000-year-old horse, a donkey, five modern domestic horses and a modern Przewalski’s horse (a type of wild horse native to Mongolia), the researchers were able to gain insights into some key aspects of horse evolution. Their findings indicate that the last common ancestor of the members of the genus Equus—which includes modern horses, donkeys, asses and zebras, along with their extinct relatives–lived some 4 million to 4.5 million years ago, double the estimate suggested by the oldest unequivocal Equus fossils. The results also allowed the team to chart the demographic history of horses over the past two million years, revealing how the population waxed and waned as climate shifted and grasslands expanded and contracted. In addition, the researchers identified several genome regions in modern horses that seem to have been targeted by natural selection acting to promote advantageous gene variants related to immunity and olfaction, as well as a number of genome regions that may have undergone selection related to domestication. A report detailing the study will be published in the June 27 Nature. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.)

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Story: Kate Wong, Scientific American | Photo: D.G. Froese

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