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The origins of the  Macrauchenia, an extinct mammal, have been poorly understood for years.

Strange Creature

Macrauchenia is an extinct mammal that was very eccentric looking: It had a body like a humpless camel, the feet of a rhinoceros, and a snorkel‑like nose about half as long as an elephant.

Charles Darwin said it was one of the strangest animals ever discovered. Scientists suspected it was some type of South American ungulate, but weren't quite sure what it was.

Ungulates are animals with hooves, but other than that, scientists are not quite sure what animals fit in the group.

Scientists thought South America's ungulates, which disappeared about ten thousand years ago, were related to mammals such as horses rather than elephants and other species. The trouble was, the fossils they had didn't contain any good DNA for comparison.

Ancient Origins

They decided to use collagen instead. It's a structural protein found in all animal bones that can survive for eons under all sorts of conditions, up to ten times longer than DNA. The directions to make collagen come from the DNA, so each species has its own distinct collagen built of a series of smaller pieces called amino acids.

The scientists then compared differences between the collagen of current and extinct species.

They used a variety of fossil samples, including two discovered by Darwin. They found that Macrauchenia is most closely related to horses, rhinos and tapirs. They also confirmed that their ancestors moved from North to South American over 60 million years ago.

Read More:

"Ancient Proteins Resolve the Evolutionary History of Darwin's South American Ungulates" (Nature)


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