Unveiling the Ecological Applications of Ancient DNA from Mollusk Shells

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The shells of marine mollusks represent promising metagenomic archives of the past, adding to bones, teeth, hairs, and environmental samples most commonly examined in ancient DNA research. Seminal work has established that DNA recovery from marine mollusks depends on their shell microstructure, preservation and disease state, and that authentic ancient DNA could be retrieved from specimens as old as 7,000 years. Here, we significantly push the temporal limit for shell DNA recovery to 100,000 years with the successful genetic characterization of one Portlandia arctica and one Mytilus mussel sample collected within a dated permafrost layer from the Taimyr Peninsula, Russia. We expand the analysis of ancient DNA in carbonate shells to a larger number of genera (Arctica, Cernuella, Crassostrea, Dreissena, Haliotis, Lymnaea, Margaritifera, Pecten, Ruditapes, Venerupis) from marine, freshwater and terrestrial environments. We demonstrate that DNA from ancient shells can provide sufficient resolution for taxonomic, phylogenetic and/or population assignment. Our results confirm mollusk shells as long-term DNA reservoirs, opening new avenues for the investigation of environmental changes, commercial species management, biological invasion, and extinction. This is especially timely in light of modern threats to biodiversity and ecosystems.


  • Clio Der Sarkissian
  • Per Möller
  • Courtney Hofman,
  • Peter Ilsøe
  • Torben Rick
  • Tom Schiøtte
  • Martin Vinther Sørensen
  • Love Dalén
  • Ludovic Orlando
External organisations
  • Université Paul Sabatier
  • University of Oklahoma
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • University of Copenhagen
  • Swedish Museum of Natural History
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Geology
  • Evolutionary Biology
Original languageEnglish
Article number37
JournalFrontiers in Ecology and Evolution
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Jan 7
Publication categoryResearch