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Invasion of the 'Viking Mice'

This is a story of mice and men — well, Viking mice and Viking men. A new study in BMC Evolutionary Biology shows that Viking conquerors brought more than just fear and trembling to the hearts of those they invaded — they also brought mice, stowed away on their ships, reports New Scientist's Andy Coghlan. Researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden compared the mitochondrial DNA of modern house mice living in Iceland and Greenland to mtDNA extracted from mouse skeletons from the Viking era 1,000 to 1,200 years ago, as well as to the mtDNA of ancient mice from Norway and the UK, Coghlan says. "On Iceland, the Viking mice are still thriving," he adds. "The mtDNA extracted from Viking mice skeletons there was easy to trace in today's Icelandic mice, mainly because the relative isolation of the country means that there have been few subsequent mouse invasions." Study author Eleanor Jones says the mice's mtDNA remained highly conserved from the ninth century to the present day. "In earlier research, Jones demonstrated how the Norwegian mice colonised much of the British Isles and Ireland," Coghlan says. "She says that they probably stowed away by accident in hay and grain kept in the ships for domesticated animals."

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