Saturday, 21 April 2012

Dawn of Polar Bears Far Earlier Than Thought

Polar bears have been chilling on the ice far longer than is generally thought, new research suggests, and they probably interbred with brown bears at one point after the two species separated.

The new German study contradicts data from a study published last July in the journal Current Biology that suggested polar bears separated from brown bears 150,000 years ago. The new study analyzed the bears' mitochondrial DNA, a special "additional genome" that lives in the cell's energy factories and is passed down only from the mother. The new study concludes that the bears became separate species closer to 600,000 years ago.

If the polar bears were only 150,000 years old, as suggested by the previous study, they would have had to evolve many specialized traits in a curiously brief time, the German researchers said.
"I've been long puzzled by the suggestion that the polar bears would have been such a miraculous and rapidly evolving species," Frank Hailer of the Senckenberg Nature Research Society in Frankfurt told LiveScience. "I had this lingering question: Is it really true?"

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