Researchers in the United Arab Emirates used ancient date palm seeds to sequence the genome of an extinct species and learn about the Roman Empire’s influence in the Middle East, according to the country’s official news agency WAM.
The scientists from New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) managed to germinate seeds from the southern Levant region that were determined through carbon dating to be around two thousand years old.
These seeds were then used for genome sequencing, which revealed how the now-extinct variant of the date palm tree evolved over time, WAM reported.
Between the fourth century BCE and the second century CE, Judean date palms in the eastern Mediterranean started showing increasing levels of genes from other species including the Phoenix theophrasti that grows in Greece and Turkey today.
The increasing levels of genes from the Phoenix theophrasti variety date from the same time period as the Roman Empire’s conquest of the area, according to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA.
The study was conducted by Professor of Biology Michael D. Purugganan and his NYUAD colleagues along with research partners in Israel and France.
“We are fortunate that date palm seeds can live a long time – in this case, more than 2,000 years – and germinate with minimal DNA damage, in the dry environment of the region,” Purugganan said in a report carried by WAM.
“This ‘resurrection genomics’ approach is a remarkably effective way to study the genetics and evolution of past and possibly extinct species like Judean date palms,” he added.
“By reviving biological material such as germinating ancient seeds from archaeological, paleontological sites, or historical collections, we can not only study the genomes of lost populations but also, in some instances, rediscover genes that may have gone extinct in modern varieties,” according to Purugganan.