AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

How Old “Chewing Gum” Allows Us To See Into The Past

In a recent study conducted by the University of Copenhagen, scientists have discovered a complete human genome extracted from a sample of old birch pitch “chewing gum”.


While excavating in Lolland, and island in Denmark, archeologists found a sample of 5,700 thousand year old birch pitch sealed in mud. Since the sample was sealed in mud, it was preserved very well. The birch pitch was found in a place called Syltholm, a site where many past archaeological finds have been made.


Why is this Discovery Important?

This is the first time a complete ancient genome has been extracted from something other than a bone sample. Samples of oral DNA as well as other human pathogens were found which are very important finds due to the fact that there are no other human remains left from that time period. From the initial birch pitch sample, scientists could figure out that the person who chewed the birch pitch was a female who most likely had dark hair, dark skin, blue eyes, and was genetically related to hunter-gatherers.

Scientists also made bacterial discoveries. Bacteria that come from oral microbiomes were found which allows us to also study the diet and microbiomes of  the people living 5,700 years ago. Scientist Hannes Schroeder says that studying these DNA samples will help us understand ancient microbiomes as well as the evolution of human pathogens.

I think it is interesting that so much information could be uncovered from a sample of ancient tree bark tar. What do you think?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


What’s Happening with Human Gut Microbiome Research?


Human Microbiome and Age: A Complex Balancing Act


  1. maggiechondria

    Hi CELLILLYMEMBRANE! I think your research was extremely fascinating. I would have never thought it would be possible to extract saliva from ancient chewing gum! I found a article which states researchers have similarly derived DNA from three individuals from chewing gums from Scandinavia which are close to 10,000 years old, The article states, ” ‘…Our ancestors lived in a different environment and had a different lifestyle and diet, and it is therefore interesting to find out how this is reflected in their microbiome,’ says Hannes Schroeder.” I agree with you, Lilly, that it is so interesting that so much information could be uncovered from a sample of ancient tree bark tar. The preservation of DNA in the discovered chewing gums is truly amazing, and helps researchers understand how pathogens have evolved and spread over time.

  2. brianaryfission

    It’s super interesting to see the largely useful nature of saliva in terms of extracting genomes and researching the DNA of different organisms. One particular application of this concept is the use of DNA to protect animals: . This article shows that analyzing saliva allows scientists to access a large database of DNA for comparison between different animals — which has importance when it comes to saving a species because it can allow scientists to identify those that are disease resistant.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Skip to toolbar