Science Round Up:DNA extracted from prehistoric gum

Makes a change from bones, enthuses KU archaeologist

January 16th, 2020 1:45 am| by Valmira Gjoni
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If you’ve ever wondered what a Danish woman from the Neolithic era would look like, scientists have found the answer in what has been described as prehistoric chewing gum.

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen and the Museum of Lolland-Falster have defined the physical condition of a woman living 5,700 years ago in Denmark, including her physical traits, her diet, and the bacteria and viruses she probably carried.

Better than bones
The scientists extracted the woman’s DNA from a one sq cm piece of birch bark, which it is believed ancient Danes chewed on to make more pliable for various uses, found at the Fehrman Link construction site.

“It is very exciting to be able to extract a full human genome from anything other than bone,’’ Hannes Schroeder, a KU archaeologist, told the New York Times.

Dark hair and skin
The DNA extracted from the chewed birch, which was probably used as an adhesive or a natural treatment for dental illnesses, revealed that the woman was a dark skinned hunter-gatherer with dark brown hair and blue eyes who had recently eaten duck and hazelnuts for a meal.

The physical characteristics were not an unusual combination for that era since they have been found among other hunter-gatherers in Mesolithic Europe.

Unearthed city
In related news, Danish National Museum archaeologists have helped to unearth the ancient Greek city of Sikyon. Located on the Peloponnese peninsula west of Athens, it was sacked and destroyed in 303 BC.

Among the finds so far are a large storage container for olive oil, a place of worship, a tomb containing a pair of bulky sandals, and some strigiles, which athletes used to scrape the oil and dirt off their body after physical exertion.


Food waste pledges
Last spring the Food Ministry established a think-tank to fight food waste, and in late December ONE/THIRDS released its first list of recommendations. Among the highlights was improving the way the government informs the public about opportunities to get rid of surplus food. Denmark wastes about 700,000 tonnes each year.

Sustainable solar cell
DTU researchers have built a multi-junction solar cell using sustainable material. The team combined thin-film solar cells with regular silicon cells, using a material called CZTS. Consisting of just copper, zinc, tin and sulphur, it is cheap and sustainable.

Rare sea turtle found
An endangered hawskbill sea turtle was sighted struggling off the Danish west coast at Blåvand and handed into a local zoo. In related news, Nammco has warned that Greenland is hunting the narwhal to extinction, and otters have returned to Lolland for the first time since the 1960s.

Environmental candle
The Danish Technological Institute is launching a candle that emits 90 percent less particles – good news for hygge lovers as most candles emit CO2, nitrogen dioxide and harmful soot. The average Dane burns through 6 kilos of candlelight every year.

Robot promise
Industrial robot exports grew sixfold between 2014 and 2018. It is predicted the number of people employed by the robotics industry will grow from 8,500 to 25,000 by 2025, and that its turnover will increase from 18 to 25-30 billion kroner. In related news, University of Copenhagen researchers are testing a new tool that will help cardiologists sort out patient data using AI.

Energy island plans
The government is currently looking for possible locations to place a 10 GW wind energy island that would require investment of 200-300 billion kroner. Just one would meet the electricity demand of more than 10 million European households.

Diabetes research
With funding of 1 million euros, DiaUnion, a Swedish and Danish collaborative project, aims to develop new treatments for type 1 diabetes patients – the rarer type of the disease that tends to affect 0.5 percent of the population, normally from childhood.

Skin cancer increase
The number of Danish women diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer rose by 14.5 percent in 2018, according to the Cancer Registry – from 1,255 to 1,353 cases. Meanwhile, colon cancer rates fell by 11.6 percent among women, and by 10.8 percent among men.

Fewer twin births
Twin births have declined by a third over the last decade from 1,431 sets in 2008 to 928 in 2018, according to Danmarks Statistik. Experts attribute the decline to the growing tendency to only use one egg for in vitro fertilisation. Previously a quarter of women implanted with two fertilised eggs gave birth to twins.

No abortion suicide link
An Aarhus University study suggests that abortion alone does not raise the risk of suicide attempts. Based on the data of half a million Danish women, it concludes that women who have abortions are more likely to have mental health problems, and that the suicide risk is higher before the abortion, not after.

Meds from the UK
Many Danes are ordering prescription meds online via UK-based websites, which are equipped with Danish language customer service. In related news, Danish pharmacies have run out of scabies treatments following a recent outbreak, and the DTU played a major role in making the first ebola vaccine.