Research Continuing at IUP

An Indiana University of Pennsylvania geoscience faculty member is part of an international team that has discovered the oldest ancient DNA ever recovered—and he is continuing to examine the recovered DNA in his IUP laboratory with IUP students.

Jonathan Warnock was part of a 2019 international ocean study project that recovered the DNA in sediments from beneath the floor of the Scotia Sea, north of the Antarctic. Warnock was chosen as one of 30 scientists for the 60-day expedition, selected for his expertise in diatoms (single-celled organisms that date back around 150 million years).

DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the hereditary material in humans and almost all other organisms.

“The DNA we found is the oldest ancient DNA ever recovered from sediments,” Warnock said. “At 1 million years old, it’s older than any previous discovery by a few hundred thousand years.

“DNA is helpful—and exciting—because we can get a more detailed picture of what marine life was doing than we can with fossils,” he said.

The results of the continued study of the DNA—which Warnock will compare with fossils from that time period—will help to understand the climate history of the region, by determining what has lived in the ocean, and when it has been present.

The results can provide valuable information on how climate works—including information on how climate change could affect Antarctica in the future, Warnock said.

The results of this initial study, led by the University of Tasmania, have been publicized in a number of scientific journals. The research has been published in the October 2 issue of Nature Communications and featured in Heritage Daily and in the October 10 issue of Science Alert.

"Antarctica is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change on Earth, and studying the past and present responses of this polar marine ecosystem to environmental change is a matter of urgency," write the researchers in their published paper.

“It’s incredibly exciting and important research, and there is a great deal yet to be done,” Warnock said. “At IUP, we will be digging into the fossil side of this record so we can add another perspective while also learning how the two types of data compare.”