Sydney — Taking a big hop forward in marsupial research, scientists say they have unraveled the DNA of a small kangaroo named Matilda.
And they’ve found the Aussie icon has more in common with humans than scientists had thought. The kangaroo last shared a common ancestor with humans 150 million years ago.
“We’ve been surprised at how similar the genomes are,” said Jenny Graves, director of the government-backed research effort. “Great chunks of the genome are virtually identical.”
The scientists also discovered 14 previously unknown genes in the kangaroo and suspect the same ones are also in humans, Graves said.
The animal whose DNA was decoded is a small kangaroo known as a Tammar wallaby.
Researchers working with the government-funded Centre of Excellence for Kangaroo Genomics sequenced Matilda’s DNA last year. Last week, they finished putting the pieces of the sequence together to form a genetic map. The group plans to publish the research next year, Graves said.
Scientists have already untangled the DNA of around two dozen mammals, including mice and chimps, which are closer to humans on the evolutionary timeline. But Graves said it’s the kangaroo’s distance from people that make its genetic map helpful in understanding how humans evolved.