An artist’s reconstruction of Macrauchenia patachonica, the “strangest animal ever discovered.”
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Charles Darwin, Mr. Evolution himself, didn't know what to make of the fossils he saw in Patagonia so he sent them to his friend, the renowned paleontologist Richard Owen. Owen was stumped too.For nearly two centuries, biologists and taxonomists argued over the pedigree of this bizarre beast, which weighed 400 to 500 kilograms, lived in open landscapes, and snacked on grass and leaves.To solve the puzzle, Westbury and a 20-strong team of scientists used mitochondrial DNA extracted from a fossil found in southern Chile to decode the extinct mammal's origins.Inherited from the mother alone, the mitochondrial genome is smaller and has more copies in the cell – and thus in fossils – than DNA from the more complex nuclear genome, Hofreiter explained.The team eventually pieced together almost 80 percent of the total genome, making it possible to situate Macrauchenia in an evolutionary timeline.
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