Planet Earth

Of Viking Mice and Men: DNA Analysis Reveals How Mice Colonized Northern Europe

80beatsBy Sarah ZhangMar 20, 2012 12:37 AM

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Just as Vikings pillaged their way from Norway to Greenland and Iceland 1000 years ago, another group of furry raiders appears to have made a similar trek: common house mice. A new analysis of ancient and modern mouse DNA suggests that the mice in Iceland and Greenland came from Norway. Scientists began by looking at mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) extracted from living mice in Iceland and Greenland as well as from mouse bones found in old settlements. The ancient gene sequences were strikingly similar to those of modern mice found in UK and Norway, as well as to modern Icelandic mice, suggesting a common origin in either the UK or Norway. The low genetic diversity in Iceland, to boot, suggests recent colonization by a small number of stowaway mice. These findings have prompted speculation that mice may have arrived in the islands in Viking ships, though there is no evidence that that's the case. As scientists continue using human DNA to map our ancestors' migrations, it's neat to be reminded that there might be similar patterns of migration in species that tend to live with humans. Perhaps the bones of mice may in the future provide helpful clues for figuring out where ancient humans went and what they brought with them. [via New Scientist]

Image modified via Wikimedia Commons / George Shuklin, Shutterstock / silavsale

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