Ancient and modern environmental DNA

Mikkel Winther Pedersen, Søren Overballe-Petersen, Luca Ermini, Clio Der Sarkissian, James Haile, Micaela Hellstrom, Johan Spens, Philip Francis Thomsen, Kristine Bohmann, Enrico Cappellini, Ida Bærholm Schnell, Nathan A. Wales, Christian Carøe, Paula F. Campos, Astrid M.Z. Schmidt, M. Thomas P. Gilbert, Anders J. Hansen, Ludovic Orlando, Eske Willerslev*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

239 Citations (Scopus)


DNA obtained from environmental samples such as sediments, ice or water (environmental DNA, eDNA), represents an important source of information on past and present biodiversity. It has revealed an ancient forest in Greenland, extended by several thousand years the survival dates for mainland woolly mammoth in Alaska, and pushed back the dates for spruce survival in Scandinavian ice-free refugia during the last glaciation. More recently, eDNA was used to uncover the past 50 000 years of vegetation history in the Arctic, revealing massive vegetation turnover at the Pleistocene/Holocene transition, with implications for the extinction of megafauna. Furthermore, eDNA can reflect the biodiversity of extant flora and fauna, both qualitatively and quantitatively, allowing detection of rare species. As such, trace studies of plant and vertebrate DNAin the environment have revolutionized our knowledge of biogeography. However, the approach remains marred by biases related toDNAbehaviour in environmental settings, incomplete reference databases and false positive results due to contamination.We provide a review of the field.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1660
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jan 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Ancient
  • Ancient DNA
  • Environment
  • Environmental DNA
  • Review


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