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Darwin’s mystery animal: Camel-like creature linked to ancient horses finally added to tree of life

| | July 5, 2017
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This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation.

After the last of its kind died out about 12,000 years ago, a strange animal that stumped Charles Darwin is finally being added to the tree of life, according to a new study in the journal Nature Communications. Macrauchenia patachonica lived during the last ice age. It resembled a bulky camel without a hump, with a long neck like that of a llama and a short trunk for a nose.

Legendary British scientist Darwin found the first fossil of this creature, as well as those of other extinct animals that fall under the “South American native ungulates” category, in 1834. The fossils were given to Richard Owen, a British paleontologist, to study. Neither Owen nor Darwin could clarify the Macrauchenia’s combination of features to a modern-day counterpart or a distinct mammal lineage. But they had only a few limb bones and vertebrae to study.
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A previous study tried to place Macrauchenia on the tree of life by using ancient collagen. The new study, led by [Ross MacPhee, curator at the American Museum of Natural History] and [Michi Hofreiter, paleogenomics expert at the University of Potsdam], built on the 2015 collagen study by extracting mitochondrial DNA from a fossil found in South America.

Macrauchenia now belongs to a sister group of Perissodactyla, which includes horses, rhinos and tapirs. The two groups split about 66 million years ago, around the time a mass extinction occurred when an asteroid struck the Earth.

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion, and analysis. Read full, original post: DNA solves ancient animal riddle that Darwin couldn’t

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