In a recent BBC News article, Ivan Noble discusses the possibility that ancient penguins may hold the key to unlocking the mysteries behind the complicated molecular clock of evolution. Although a seemingly unlikely animal to research, prehistoric penguin remains in the Antarctic often have been the basis for study, research, as well as debate in the modern science world. Because the prehistoric relatives of the cute and cuddly modern day birds have colonies that are “characterized by high densities and high mortality”, large deposits of the subfossil bones “have been serially preserved in the cold Antarctic environment” (Lambert & Ritchie), making the animals prime candidates for scientific research and testing. Massey University’s David Lambert along with his colleagues have recently unearthed the remains of two distinct types of ancient Adelie penguins living in the Antarctic (Noble), and his findings may prove vital to a better understanding of far more than simply an advancement in the penguin fossil record. By digging past Noble’s article and into the original study reported in Science Magazine, the actual significance of the Adelie Penguin study becomes clear.
The penguins’ remains are crucial in order to identify and to contrast individual differences between the two lineages throughout history. Not only have scientists compared the ancient DNA of the two types with each other, but also they have expanded their comparison to include living penguins as well. Out of the 96 radiocarbon-aged bones tested (the oldest fossil dating back nearly 8000 years ago), the scientists found “large numbers of mitochondrial haplotypes” (Lambert & Ritchie), some of which now ...
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Although the connection between the human evolutionary clock and the Adelie Penguins’ evolutionary clock remains unconfirmed, the Adelie Penguin discoveries are sure to be the basis for much debate and future testing. Only time, research, (and perhaps the ancient penguins) will reveal how fast our own clock is ticking.
Lambert D. M. & P.A. Ritchie. “Rates of Evolution in Ancient DNA from Adelie Penguins”. Science, Vol 295, Issue 5563, 2270-2273, 22 March 2002. http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/295/5563/2270?maxtoshow=&HITS=10&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltext=DNA+Penguins&searchid=1080445587175_6967&stored_search=&FIRSTINDEX=0 .
Noble, Ivan. “Ancient Penguins Yield Evolution Clue”. BBC News Online, Sci/Tech 21 March, 2002. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/1885384.stm .
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