One man's food is another man's fossil

In the hunter's markets of Laos, locals eat roasted rodents known as kha-nyou. A couple of years ago, US scientists stumbled upon the creature and determined that the greyish rat-like animal they went on to name the Laotian rock rat (Laonastes aenigmamus), was a newly discovered animal from a family of beasts believed to be extinct millions of years ago.

Last month DNA analysis conducted at Tel Aviv University (TAU) and reported in National Geographic, confirmed that the rock rat is a "living fossil" belonging to a rodent family in Africa that became extinct about 11 million years ago.

The research, reports the University website was conducted at TAU and part of international project led by Dr. Dorothée Huchon from the Department of Zoology. "The Laotian rock rat, we determined, is part of a family of rodents that split from modern-day rodents about 44 million years ago," says Dr. Huchon, "I do believe that this is a living fossil, but it doesn't mean that Laonastes has stopped evolving — just that its morphology hasn't."

The research adds Huchon, not only builds the basic knowledge about biodiversity, it could play a role in understanding disease transmission. "In practical terms, if there is a new virus that arrives on the earth, we can use this research to tell which animal might be in the line of attack and affected first," notes Huchon. ::National Geographic

Tags: Animals

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