The curious discovery of the duck-billed, egg-laying, otter-footed, beaver-tailed, venomous platypus in Australia in 1798 convinced British scientists that it must be a hoax. Sketches of its appearance were thought to be impossible.
But new research proves that the oddness of the platypus' looks isn't just skin-deep. Platypus DNA is an equally cobbled-together array of avian, reptilian and mammalian lineages that may hold clues for human disease prevention.
Mark Batzer and Andrew C. Pereboom of Louisiana State University, along with an international group of scientists led by Wes Warren at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, recently completed the first draft sequence and analysis of the platypus genome.
It was the first genome sequencing project of a mammal that lays eggs, confirming that platypus DNA also looks like something of a patchwork.
"Their genomic organization was strange and a little unexpected," says Batzer. "It appeared much more bird- and reptile-like than mammalian, even though it is indeed classified as a mammal."
Having the genome in hand is a huge step for scientists seeking new details about evolution and human disease. The fact that the platypus is an ancient animal that is relatively primitive and unchanged may be a scientific boon for researchers.
At least that's the hope of researchers at the National Science Foundation (NSF), who partially funded the study. "Looking at the platypus genome may yield clues about the functions of certain components of DNA and contribute to our understanding of evolution," says Mark Weiss, division director for NSF's behavioral and cognitive sciences.
The platypus occupies the first branch of the mammalian tree of life after the split from "saurepsoids" about 315 million years ago. It maintains some long dated features and, as a result, should provide information on how mammals evolved.
"DNA contains small 'mob
|Contact: Bobbie Mixon|
National Science Foundation