"This is the world's oldest molecular parasite record, and it supports the presence of this parasite since the Pleistocene in America," says a new study in the journal Parasitology. "These results affect the biogeographic history of the parasites and the natural history of the region."
The fossil feces were discovered in a sediment layer in a rock formation at an altitude of 3,582 meters above sea level in Argentina. Tests place the fossilized feces at the end of the last ice age. With the help of DNA tests, the scientists found that the feces belongs to the big wildcat of a puma.
The DNA in the feces was probably well preserved, as the temperatures in the shelter of the rock where the feces were discovered, as well as the feces were cool. High salt concentrations and rapid drying out of the feces themselves, the study said.
"Research shows that keeping the coprolite in the right environment allows us to detect eggs and DNA from thousands of years old parasites," said Piers Mitchell, director of the Ancient Parasites Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, said to The Guardian. "This will make it easier to record the evolution of various types of parasites over time."
Originally published on August 28, 8:42 pm, PT.