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Ancient chewing gum reveals reveals identity of chewer and what she ate –



Discovering old, used chewing gum is rarely a cause for celebration. It’s a little different, though, when that gum is found in a nearly 6,000-year-old archeological site and preserves the genome of the Neolithic woman who was chewing it.  

The gum was found on an island in southern Denmark. The researchers who analyzed it were able to extract DNA from the chewer that had been trapped in the gum 5,700 years ago. The DNA revealed the sex of the chewer, and also some of her physical attributes.  

“She had this really striking combination of dark skin and dark hair and blue eyes. And of course, we also recovered the microbial DNA which added a whole lot more,” said archeologist Hannes Schroeder, in conversation with Quirks & Quarks host Bob McDonald.  Schroeder is an assistant professor of archeology at the University of Copenhagen,

This is the first time ever scientists have extracted an entire ancient genome from anything other than bone or teeth, giving insight into some of Europe’s early inhabitants and their lifestyle. 

“It is quite amazing — 10 to 15 years ago, nobody thought we would get an ancient genome, full stop. And now we’re able to recover ancient genomes from something like an ancient piece of chewing gum,” said Schroeder about his findings. The team’s work was published in the journal Nature Communications

This is interesting because it tells us something about the evolution of lighter skin tones in this part of the world as a way of adapting to these light poor environments.– Hannes Schroeder

This DNA recovered in the gum is just the latest genetic evidence of dark skinned individuals living in Europe thousands of years ago. 

“This is interesting because it tells us something about the evolution of lighter skin tones in this part of the world as a way of adapting to these light-poor environments,” said Schroeder.

DNA reveals hunter gatherer ancestry

When Schroeder and his colleagues analyzed this Stone Age woman’s DNA, they found it very closely resembled the genomes of hunter gatherers who lived in Europe 6,000 to 10,000 years ago.

“And that fit also with the fact that we recovered plant and animal DNA from the gum as well, which we found to be hazelnuts and duck DNA. And these are obviously wild resources,” added Schroeder

He said this is interesting because at the time this female was eating wild duck and hazelnuts in what is now Denmark, there were already farming communities present just a hundred kilometres away in Germany.

“But it looks like she and her community were still genetically hunter gatherers and also living still a hunter gatherer lifestyle.”

An artist’s illustration of what the ancient gum chewer who lived in Scandinavia would have looked like. (Tom Björklund)

Ancient uses for chewing gum

Scientists had previously discovered this gum-like substance on tools from similar Stone Age archeological sites where the gum was used as a glue to help hold the parts of the tools together.

The gum was derived from birch pitch. Schroeder said it was made by boiling birch bark to extract the pitch. The gooey substance solidifies when cooled. 

“Then in order to make it usable, people used to chew it.”

We identified a number of bacterial species, for instance, that are involved in different forms of tooth decay.– Hannes Schroeder, University of Copenhagen

Microbial treasure trove

Schroeder said one of the more exciting aspects of their discovery is that they were also able to extract DNA from microbes that would have been in the woman’s mouth — her oral microbiome.  

Most of the bacterial species they discovered were harmless and very closely resembled modern oral microbiomes.

“But then there are some that are potentially really pathogenic,” he added. 

This suggests another possible reason why the woman would have been chewing the gum. The gum contains antibacterial compounds and might have been used as a way to fight cavities and toothaches.

“We identified a number of bacterial species, for instance, that are involved in different forms of tooth decay,” he said. 

They also discovered a streptococcus species responsible for developing pneumonia, as well as viral DNA from the Epstein-Barr virus that causes glandular fever.

“Through that, we can’t say whether she had pneumonia or glandular fever, but we know that she was infected with these particular pathogens.”

Schroeder said the fact they were able to even recover the microbial DNA from an ancient piece of chewing gum “opens up entirely new avenues of research.”

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No new Covid-19 cases reported in Northwest Territories – Cabin Radio




The NWT on Friday reported no new cases of Covid-19, only the third day of reporting to come back blank since the territory’s latest Delta-variant outbreak began in mid-August.

The active case count across the territory dropped from 42 to 35. Twenty-eight are in Tuktoyaktuk – which now has a rabies warning to contend with – while four are in Yellowknife and one each in Inuvik, Norman Wells, and Hay River.

There was no change to the number of hospitalizations, intensive care admissions, or deaths.


Meanwhile, the World Health Organization on Friday dubbed the globe’s latest variant of concern Omicron.

Omicron, identified in South Africa, has a large number of mutations. Early evidence suggests it could be significantly more transmissible than Delta and present an increased reinfection risk.

However, the amount of evidence related to Omicron is low. The variant was only identified last week and the number of cases studied to date numbers in the low dozens.

Some countries, including Canada, moved swiftly on Friday to impose travel restrictions on South Africa and neighbouring nations.


Canada currently has no direct flights to or from the affected region, but nevertheless banned the entry of all foreign nationals who have travelled through South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, or Eswatini in the past 14 days.

Some observers criticized the rush to travel bans, arguing South Africa was in effect being punished for operating a particularly effective variant surveillance program.


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Kids on P.E.I. receive first vaccinations against COVID-19 –



One hundred and thirty children in P.E.I. received the COVID-19 vaccine on Friday — the first day the shot was available to five to 11-year-olds.

A pediatric vaccine clinic was held at the County Fair Mall in Summerside, P.E.I.

“I think it’s important because it can help protect others,” said 10-year-old Alex DesRoche. “I was worried that I’d get COVID and spread it to my papa … because he has cancer.”

Her mom, Robin DesRosche, is happy to have gotten her daughter vaccinated. 

Robin DesRosche (left) stands with her daughter Alex. DesRosche says it’s a relief to get her daughter vaccinated. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

“At any point in time, something can weigh in on your family and if you can do anything to try to prevent it, as a parent, I would,” said DesRoche. 

There are 13,000 kids in the five to 11 age group in the province, and 2,500 have appointments booked so far. 

Madeline Goguen, 10, said she was a little nervous to get the shot, but in the end, she said it didn’t hurt and was well worth it. 

“I’m excited because it’s been a while since I’ve gone on vacation,” Goguen said. “It was just quick. It was a tiny pinch and that was it.”

Getting the vaccine will make going to see her dad in New Brunswick less stressful, she said. 

“Every time that I had to get tested I was always worried,” said Goguen.

Her mother, LeAnne Weeks, shares that sense of relief.

LeeAnn Weeks (left) gives a thumbs up next to her daughter Madeline Goguen. Weeks says getting vaccinated is the right thing to do. (Steve Bruce/CBC )

“Now that Madeline is done, that’s our whole family, and we’re just excited that we feel safe now,” Weeks said. 

The clinic has been set up just for kids and other community clinics will be too. With decorations from the movie Frozen and a free toy with every shot, it’s about making the kids feel more comfortable. 

“I think kids and adults too are a little bit nervous about coming and getting needles, even if they know they really want it, and need it,” said Marion Dowling, chief of nursing on P.E.I. 

“We just want to make it as welcoming as possible, and try to give them a bit of privacy with the stations, so they can sit as a family unit, and have the conversation, ask any questions they might have too, and be comfortable.” 

PEI’s chief public health officer made an appearance at the clinic on Friday. Dr. Heather Morrison said she’s pleased to see so many parents booking shots for their children. 

Chief of nursing Marion Dowling says more than 1,000 appointments were booked when vaccine registration for children opened on Tuesday. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

“I almost got goosebumps in there. There are children who are excited, there are parents who are that excited. Just to be a part of it was pretty special” Morrison said. 

In a survey by the province, about 70 per cent of parents said they would get their child vaccinated, while others said they were undecided. 

Morrison said she thinks word of mouth will convince many of them to sign up. 

“We know it can influence others if we know that your friends have booked their vaccine,” she said.

“I saw children here today wearing stickers saying, ‘I got my COVID vaccine.’ They will start talking amongst their friends that ‘I got mine, and it feels good.'”

Dr. Heather Morrison says she is getting her kids vaccinated. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Five community clinics across P.E.I. are currently offering the vaccine for five to 11-year-olds. 

In the new year, the plan is to set up school clinics for kids in grades four to six. 

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UK COVID genomics head says new variant likely to come to UK



It is likely that the new coronavirus variant B.1.1.529, which is spreading in South Africa, will end up in Britain, the head of the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium said on Friday.

A ban on flights from southern Africa came into force in Britain on Friday, and numerous other countries also restricted travel from the region.

“(B.1.1.529 is) something that I would guess is likely to be transmitted into the UK at some point, but it buys that time,” COG-UK Chair Sharon Peacock told reporters.

“I think buying time is important and it’s worthwhile, because we can find out what we need to know about that particular variant.”

Speaking at a briefing with other experts, Peacock praised the quick work of South African scientists who shared what they knew about the variant after a surge in cases centred on Gauteng province.

That early warning could be crucial in preventing the variant taking over rapidly from the Delta variant as the world’s dominant one, even as South Africa bristles at the swift imposition of barriers to travel.

“This is a different circumstance than Delta, and there might be some hope for maybe some amount of containment,” said Jeffrey Barrett, Director of the COVID-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute.

“The difference really is that the surveillance was so good in South Africa and other nearby countries that they found this, understood that it was a problem, and told the world extremely fast.”


Peacock said it was important not to assume that the variant had arisen in South Africa just because it had been detected there.

“Variants will fly under the radar in countries where there’s no sequencing capability,” she said.

A distinctive trait known as an “S-gene target failure”, which distinguishes the new variant from Delta, means that PCR tests can give a clue to the presence of the new variant without full genomic sequencing.

However, Wendy Barclay, a virologist who leads the UK National Virology Consortium G2P-UK, cautioned that some other variants also had the trait.

Many parts of Europe have been struggling with high and rising COVID rates for weeks, but Barrett said these were unlikely to be driven by B.1.1.529, even in places with less sequencing.

“They are consistently finding a mix of Delta variant, basically,” he said.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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