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Old Sheep Leg

Researchers have studied the genetics of a 1,600-year-old mummified sheep leg uncovered in a mine in Iran, LiveScience reports.

It adds that the sheep leg was likely cast aside by mine workers — sheep were a food source for workers — and became desiccated and mummified in the salt mine. An international team of researchers isolated DNA from the skin of the sheep leg for analysis. As they report in Biology Letters, they found that it harbored a fat-tail associated allele, noting that fat-tail breeds are thought to be better adapted to arid conditions, and that it likely had a 'hairy' coat allele, the ancestral phenotype.

"This sample, it was something really exceptional, just how well preserved the DNA was," first author Conor Rossi, a doctoral student at the Smurfit Institute of Genetics in Dublin, tells LiveScience. "I think it's fair to say we weren't expecting to see that level of preservation."

The researchers note, according to LiveScience, that this is a single sample and because of that, they cannot generalize about broader domestication patterns from that time.

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