Pristine DNA recovered from 1,600-year-old sheep mummy

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A lone sheep leg, likely discarded by hungry mine workers, lay hidden in a salt mine in Iran for over a thousand years, during which time the salinity of the surrounding environment naturally mummified the limb. Now, scientists have extracted pristine DNA from the mummified leg and dated the sample to the fifth or sixth century.

The DNA molecules were “so well preserved and not fragmented, despite their age,” senior study author Kevin Daly, a research fellow at the Smurfit Institute of Genetics at Trinity College Dublin, told Live Science. This immaculate preservation not only allowed the team to examine DNA from the sheep, but also the genetic material of salt-loving microbes that grew on the specimen, the team reported in a new study, published July 13 in the journal Biology Letters.

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