After DNA tests on a skeleton found among the remains of an antique Roman house in 2004, Italian scientists assumed they had discovered a breed of horse which had been hitherto unknown or had died out.
An error occurred during these tests, is what a team of scientists from Cambridge University and the Institute of Forensic Genetics at Münster University now say. Their arguments have been published in a letter to the editor of the online edition of the Journal of Cellular Biochemistry. Evidently, donkey DNA became combined with horse DNA, producing an artificial hybrid DNA.
In the original study, analyses were made of five skeletons from equids, to which horses, donkeys and zebras belong. The skeletons had been excavated from the remains of a household in the antique city of Pompeii, in the stables of the Casa dei Casti Amanti (House of the Chaste Lovers). This well-known building is named after the wall frescoes depicting romantic scenes. The owner was probably Caius Iulius Polybius, a wealthy politician and baker. Archaeologists derive this latter occupation from the fact that an open baking oven and four millstones were found in the house. The horse skeletons had been conserved by means of a layer of volcanic ash which had buried Pompeii and the nearby settlement Herculaneum when Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD.
The team of researchers that carried out the original study examined the 2000-year-old mitochondrial DNA of the horses, i.e. DNA not from the cell nucleus but from the “energy powerhouses” (the mitochondria) of the cells. Four DNA types could be easily classified as they matched typical mitochondrial genetic material found in horses. The fifth horse, however, seemed to possess DNA similar to that of horses but otherwise unknown. The scientists came to the conclusion that the horse in question was of a breed hitherto unknown and presumably extinct.
Susan Gurney, a PhD student at Münster University’s Institute of Animal Physiology and a member of the Institute of Forensic Genetics at the University of Cambridge in the UK, took a closer look at the data. Gurney, an expert on the evolution of horses, concluded that an error had occurred in the initial tests. The mitochondrial DNA of a horse had evidently come into contact with that of a donkey, resulting in the formation of hybrid DNA which appeared to originate from an unknown breed of horse. Gurney demonstrated that the first 177 structural units (or nucleotides) of the DNA sequence matched the sequence of nucleotides for donkeys’ genetic material. The remaining 193 nucleotides match horse DNA. “It was easy to recognize that originally there must have been two separate DNA strands,” she says. The error might have occurred during the excavation work – perhaps DNA was transferred from one skeleton to another. Or possibly the error occurred inadvertently in the lab or afterwards during the data analysis at the computer.”
Although the scientists have not been able to confirm that a new breed of horse has been discovered, the result is still exciting, they say. If the donkey DNA really did come from the antique skeleton, this would demonstrate for the first time that the archetype of the domestic donkey typically found in Italy today was already being kept in ancient Pompeii. This lineage is descended from the Somali wild ass. In other European countries, by contrast, the donkeys kept are descended from the Nubian lineage. The ancient donkey DNA provides researchers with new insights into the history of donkey breeding.
The study involved not only Susan Gurney from Cambridge University, currently writing her PhD at the Institute of Animal Physiology headed by Prof. Wolf-Michael Weber, but also Dr. Peter Forster. Forster is a scientist at Münster’s Institute of Forensic Genetics, headed by Prof. Emeritus Bernd Brinkmann.
Susan M. R. Gurney (2010): Revisiting ancient mtDNA equid sequences from Pompeii. Journal of Cellular Biochemistry (Accepted manuscript online); DOI: 10.1002/jcb.22914
Dr. Christina Heimken | idw
Bolstering fat cells offers potential new leukemia treatment
17.10.2017 | McMaster University
Ocean atmosphere rife with microbes
17.10.2017 | King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST)
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.
It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...
17.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
17.10.2017 | Life Sciences
17.10.2017 | Life Sciences
17.10.2017 | Earth Sciences