The Rock Art Network
The Rock Art Network
The Rock Art Network
Bradshaw Foundation - Latest News
Cave bear DNA lives on in brown bears
Tuesday 28 August 2018

An article by Karen Weintraub on - Extinct Cave Bear DNA Lives On in Brown Bears - reports on research which reveals that modern brown bears carry genetic material passed down from the cave bear. This indicates that extinction does not always vanquish a species' genes.

The skull of a cave bear
The skull of a cave bear, which went extinct 25,000 years ago. Image: Andrei Posmoanu

About 25,000 years ago in Western Europe, the cave bear species became extinct. However research published rercently in Nature Ecology & Evolution finds that some cave bear DNA lives on in modern brown bears, much like modern humans and the extinct Neanderthal.

Axel Barlow, the lead author and a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Potsdam in Germany explained that the new study was intended to learn more about the cave bear by studying its genetics. They happened to compare the genetic sequence they'd derived for the cave bear with an existing sequence of a brown bear, and the results surprised them: there was an obvious signal of hybridization between these species.

ancient cave bears DNA extinct species
The new study indicates brown bears may have interbred with ancient cave bears, and now carry some of the DNA of the extinct species. Image: Lajos Berde

Endorsing this, Ludovic Orlando, a professor at the Centre for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, stated that this challenges our view of extinction; extinction does not imply that genetic material is gone forever.

Article continues below
Article continues

To confirm the results, the team then compared the cave bear genome to that of seven other brown bears - one ancient and six modern - and found the same genetic mixing. Cave bears contributed from just under one percent to 2.4 percent of the genomes of brown bears. The team was also able to determine that the genes flowed both ways between species, with the cave bears also carrying some brown bear DNA. The most recent transfer of genes came from the cave bear to the brown.

Skull Chamber of Chauvet cave bear France
In the Skull Chamber of Chauvet a cave bear skull was moved and placed on the rock. This would have been done either 32,000 to 30,000 or 27,000 to 26,000 years ago

Dr. Barlow admits that it is not clear why cave bears went extinct, although the timing roughly followed the migration pattern of anatomically modern humans from Africa into Europe. The last cave bears lived in western Europe, and at least one skeleton has been found with fragments of a human-made spear embedded in its vertebrae.

cave bear depiction Chauvet France
The cave bear depiction is found in the Recess of the Bears near the entrance to Chauvet. The artist used a technique known as 'stump-drawing' - the use of fingers or a piece of hide to paint the muzzle

Also unknown is whether the inbreeding between bear species provided any evolutionary advantage to the brown bears, something Dr. Barlow said he hoped to investigate. Moreover, a better understanding of species that have already gone extinct could also help conservationists provide optimal conditions for preserving today's endangered species.

Read more:
The cave bears of Chauvet

Bryn Celli Ddu through Minecraft
by Bradshaw Foundation
Wednesday 08 July 2020
Aboriginal archaeological sites on the seabed
by Bradshaw Foundation
Thursday 02 July 2020
Neanderthal string-making
by Bradshaw Foundation
Tuesday 14 April 2020
Mammoth bone circular structure
by Bradshaw Foundation
Wednesday 18 March 2020
Genetic code extracted from gum
by Bradshaw Foundation
Wednesday 18 December 2019
Neolithic settlement discovered in Turkey
by Bradshaw Foundation
Thursday 05 December 2019
Lion figurine discovered in Denisova Cave
by Bradshaw Foundation
Thursday 21 November 2019
Modern technology for ancient ochre
by Bradshaw Foundation
Wednesday 20 November 2019
Mammoth traps discovered in Mexico
by Bradshaw Foundation
Tuesday 12 November 2019
Earlier development of prehistoric weapons
by Bradshaw Foundation
Thursday 03 October 2019
Raiders of the Lost Past on BBC
by Bradshaw Foundation
Thursday 12 September 2019
Megalthic site discovery in Spain
by Bradshaw Foundation
Friday 30 August 2019
Haul of hundreds of hunter gatherer tools sheds light on Scotland's earliest residents
by Bradshaw Foundation
Wednesday 14 August 2019
Bryn Celli Ddu on Anglesey
by Bradshaw Foundation
Tuesday 11 June 2019
Easter Island research & preservation
by Bradshaw Foundation
Tuesday 23 April 2019
John Desmond Clark
by Bradshaw Foundation
Wednesday 10 April 2019
Follow the Bradshaw Foundation on social media for news & updates
Follow the Bradshaw Foundation
on social media for news & updates
Follow the Bradshaw Foundation on social media for news & updates
Follow the Bradshaw Foundation
on social media for news & updates
If you have enjoyed visiting this website
please consider adding a link © Bradshaw Foundation
Rock Art Network Bradshaw Foundation Getty Conservation Institute
The Final Passage
by Rock Art Network
4 May 2020
Bradshaw Foundation Donate Friends
Support our work & become a
Friend of the Foundation
Bradshaw Foundation Facebook
Bradshaw Foundation YouTube
Bradshaw Foundation iShop Shop Store
Bradshaw Foundation iShop Shop Store
Bradshaw Foundation iShop Shop Store