Unveiled animal that Darwin could not identify

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Scientists have already discovered which animal fossils were found in South America, which Darwin could never identify, for years was a “mystery animal” for the scientific community.

After all the fossils belong to the “Macrauchenia patachonica”, which lived about 20 thousand years ago.

This is already a mystery with 183 years that Charles Darwin never managed to solve. Now the German scientists have discovered which animal belonged to the fossils that the British naturalist encountered by chance in South America on one of his famous voyages aboard an HMS Beagle. These were, after all, bones of a Macrauchenia patachonica, a mammal belonging to the Ice Age, which went extinct some 10 or 20 thousand years ago. This discovery was only possible after analyzing the mitochondrial DNA of cells conserved in the fossil.

In the year 1834, when Charles Darwin was only 25 years old and had left his studies to travel the world, he found a very small number of bones that he could never catalog. Years later, the fossil sample found by Darwin was given to Richard Owen, a renowned paleontologist, but he did not even find answers.

It was now a team from the University of Potsdam, Germany, that was able to analyze mitochondrial DNA (part of the genetic material of living things that is stored in the mitochondria of cells) of collagen proteins. From these data, scientists have been able to find out even some physical characteristics of the animal.

The Macrauchenia patachonica had a neck and very elongated limbs and gathers characteristics that today we find in animals like the giraffes, camels and also elephants. Still, the scientific community had never encountered animals at present that could have some evolutionary relationship with Macrauchenia patachonica. In short, this meant that this species seemed to fall from nowhere on Earth and not take place on the Tree of Life (which scientists call a phylogenetic tree).

The German team was still able to collect new data, the Macrauchenia patachonica belonged to a lineage that separated from the order Perissodactyla, to which the horses and rhinoceros belong, about 66 million years ago.

So why did Charles Darwin and Richard Owen, considered geniuses of the study of evolution, fail to arrive at these conclusions? At the time, they did not have the technology to do that, said Michi Hofreiter, who led the study.

DNA strands tend to deteriorate over time, especially in hot environments like the region where these fossils were found. Scientists then had to “glue” the DNA sequences that were found to study the mystery animal.

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