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Friday Eco-fact: Genetics of the Platypus Revealed

The duck billed platypus is one of Australia’s most fascinating animals and now scientists have determined how the platypus evolved:

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Arguably the oddest beast in Nature’s menagerie, the platypus looks as if were assembled from spare parts left over after the animal kingdom was otherwise complete.

Now scientists know why. According to a study released Wednesday, the egg-laying critter is a genetic potpourri — part bird, part reptile and part lactating mammal.

The task of laying bare the platypus genome of 2.2 billion base pairs spread across 18,500 genes has taken several years, but will do far more than satisfy the curiosity of just biologists, say the researchers.

“The platypus genome is extremely important, because it is the missing link in our understanding of how we and other mammals first evolved,” explained Oxford University‘s Chris Ponting, one of the study’s architects.

“This is our ticket back in time to when all mammals laid eggs while suckling their young on milk.”

Native to eastern Australia and Tasmania, the semi-aquatic platypus is thought to have split off from a common ancestor shared with humans approximately 170 million years ago. [AFP]

The platypus is an extremely unusual animal and the first specimens of the animal brought back to England were believed to be hoaxes at first. The platypus is not only unusual because of its looks but also because it is a mammal that lays eggs and is the only mammal to have a poisonous stinger which today scientists are not completely sure what it is used for.

I have seen platypuses in zoos mostly but have seen a platypus in the wild one time before. Seeing a platypus in the wild is very rare since they are nocturnal animals and swim so quickly. This is also makes it nearly impossible to take a picture of them which I have consistently failed to do. Even without being able to get a decent picture of the platypus it is still a magnificent animal to see.

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