Ostriches Existed In India 25,000 Years Ago, Study Finds

Posted: Mar 9 2017, 3:04pm CST | by , Updated: Mar 9 2017, 3:15pm CST, in News | Latest Science News

 

Ostriches Existed in India 25,000 Years Ago, Study Finds
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Based on a DNA analysis of fossilised eggshells of ostrich, researchers confirm the existence of this large flightless bird in India

For the first time, researchers have found molecular evidence to confirm the presence of ostriches in India as far back as 25,000 years ago. The origin of the ostrich is largely unclear and these findings can provide more insight into the evolution and history of this large living bird.

Ostriches are native to Africa. For them to be living in India at some point suggests a path between Africa and India that does not exist today. When researchers conducted DNA analysis of avian shell fragments recovered from various parts of India, they found that they were, in fact, belong to an ancient African ostrich relative, supporting at least some aspects of continental drift theory.

According to the theory, Africa, South America, Australia, Antarctica, Arabia and India were once part of a single supercontinent called Gondwanaland. About 200 million years ago, Gondwana split into pieces and formed the continents as we know them today. The theory explains how ostriches could have made their way to India and perhaps other far-off places. And if their migration occurred prior to the breakup of supercontinent, they could have been living in India for more than 100 million years ago. 

Though prior researches had also suggested that ostriches might have made their way to India, their evidences were insufficient to confirm the existence of ostriches in India.

In the latest effort, researchers have done DNA analysis of the ancient eggshells for the first time. These fossilized eggshell samples came from either the excavation sites or the personal museum collections of team members. A total of eleven eggshell fragments were recovered at eight excavation sites of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. DNA was isolated from five eggshell fragments and their analysis revealed that there is a 92% genetic similarity between the fossil eggshell samples and Struthio camelus, common ostrich species found in Africa. 

“It is very difficult to study ancient DNA as it is often broken into small fragments. In this case, the DNA was highly fragmented. So we could amplify only a smaller overlapping DNA fragment,” said co researcher Dr. Kumarasamy Thangaraj from the Center of Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad. “We are happy that we could get this much information considering that the sample was very old and not well-preserved.”

The first molecular evidence of ostriches' presence in India not only adds support to the continental drift theory but also opens up a new window into the ratites – all the large flightless birds from ostrich family tree. After supercontinent break up, many ostrich-like flightless bird species evolved, including emus in Australia and cassowaries in New Guinea.

The findings of the study were published in journal PLOS ONE.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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