Darwin’s mysterious South American mammals are related to the horse and rhino

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  • Published: Mar 19, 2015
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: Proteomics & Genomics / Proteomics
thumbnail image: Darwin’s mysterious South American mammals are related to the horse and rhino

The remains of ancient animals discovered by Darwin in South America 180 years ago on one of his Beagle voyages of discovery have been finally identified using proteomics techniques, say scientists writing in Nature.

The creatures were described at the time as a cross between a camel, a rodent and an elephant but an international team of researchers has extracted collagen from the bones and found a different result. Using mass spectrometry, the collagen α1 and α2 chains of Toxodon and Macrauchenia species were sequenced to 90% coverage which allowed them to be placed in the correct evolutionary group.

Together these two families are members of a unique group that is related to ungulates like the horse, rhinoceros and tapir. There was no evident relationship with African species as was previously thought.

In the absence of any extractable DNA from the bones, this study emphasises the value of bone proteins which can exist for much longer periods, up to millions of years and have also been extracted from mammoth bones.

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