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Molecular Coproscopy: Dung and Diet of the Extinct Ground Sloth Nothrotheriops shastensis

Here we show a chemical agent, N-enacylthiazolium bromide, which cleaves cross-links between reducing sugars and amino groups making it possible for DNA amplification for ancient paleofeces. We identify the defecator as an extinct sloth, likely Shasta ground sloth.

Jul 20, 1998

Authors: Poinar, H.N., Hofreiter, M., Spaulding, W.G., Martin, P.S., Stankiewicz, B.A., Bland, H., Evershed, R.P., Possnert, Go., Pääbo, S.

Science, Vol. 281, Issue 5375, July 1998, pp. 402-406. DOI: 10.1126/science.281.5375.402  


DNA from excrements can be amplified by means of the polymerase chain reaction. However, this has not been possible with ancient feces. Cross-links between reducing sugars and amino groups were shown to exist in a Pleistocene coprolite from Gypsum Cave, Nevada. A chemical agent, N-enacylthiazolium bromide, that cleaves such cross-links made it possible to amplify DNA sequences. Analyses of these DNA sequences showed that the coprolite is derived from an extinct sloth, presumably the Shasta ground sloth Nothrotheriops shastensis. Plant DNA sequences from seven groups of plants were identified in the coprolite. The plant assemblage that formed part of the sloth's diet exists today at elevations about 800 meters higher than the cave.

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