Ancient DNA on parchments can reveal agricultural development


London, Dec 8:

A new technique to analyse DNA found in millions of ancient parchments (material made from animal skin) stored in archives can help scientists trace agricultural development across the centuries, according to researchers.

Thanks to increasingly progressive genetic sequencing techniques, the all-important historical tales these documents tell are no longer confined to their texts.

The vital information also comes from the DNA of the parchment on which they are written, say researchers from Trinity College Dublin and the University of York.

“Parchments are an amazing resource for genetic studies that consider agricultural development over the centuries. There must be millions stored away in libraries, archives, solicitors’ offices and even in our own attics,” said Daniel Bradley, a professor of population genetics at Trinity College Dublin.

Parchment was the writing material of choice for thousands of years, going back to the Dead Sea scrolls.

For the study, the team used state-of-the-art scientific techniques to extract ancient DNA and protein from tiny samples of parchment from documents from the late 17th and late 18th centuries.

The resulting information enabled them to establish the type of animals from which the parchment was made.

Geneticists at Trinity extracted DNA from two tiny samples of parchment.

Meanwhile, researchers at University of York extracted collagen (protein) from the same parchment samples.

The first sample showed a strong affinity with northern Britain, specifically the region in which black-faced breeds such as Swaledale, Rough Fell and Scottish Blackface are common.

The second sample showed a closer affinity with the Midlands and southern Britain where the livestock improvements of the later 18th century were most active.

When compared to genomes of their modern equivalents, it provides key information on how agricultural expansion shaped the genetic diversity of these animals.

“This information, therefore, gives the scientists an unrivalled resource to analyse the development of livestock husbandry across the centuries,” Bradley noted.

The research was published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. (IANS)

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