Researchers have made a groundbreaking discovery by uncovering the DNA of a six-million-year-old turtle, hidden within a fossilised shell. This remarkable find belongs to the Lepidochelys species and is now recognised as the oldest turtle DNA ever identified by scientists.
The fossil, unearthed along the Caribbean coast of Panama, provides invaluable insights into the ancient turtle species. Notably, these turtles could reach lengths of up to two feet and had a lifespan of approximately 50 years.
The analysis conducted on the preserved specimen has enabled researchers to accurately date the turtle’s existence to the upper Miocene Epoch, around six million years ago. This period is significant for its climatic shifts, marked by a cooling and drying of the Earth, ice accumulation at the poles, and a decrease in sea levels.
During their examination of the fossil, the team discovered traces of DNA within preserved bone cells. They successfully extracted this DNA for further study.
Dr Edwin Cadena, the leading paleontologist from the Universidad del Rosario in Bogota, Colombia, emphasized the rarity of this discovery. “This type of DNA preservation has only been previously reported in two dinosaur fossils, including one from a Tyrannosaurus rex,” he noted.
This find is not just a milestone in paleontology but also offers a deeper understanding of how soft tissues and living matter can be preserved in ancient creatures.
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