Illustration (L): Carl Buell); Photo (R): S. Goldberg, M. Novacek/AMNH
If people who do not believe in evolution got mad at the notion that humans descended from apes, then they'd absolutely love this bit of news: turns out, according to new research, all mammals - us humans included, descended from rats.
Say hello to Protungulatum donnae, your new rat grandpa:
Humankind’s common ancestor with other mammals may have been a roughly rat-size animal that weighed no more than a half a pound, had a long furry tail and lived on insects.
In a comprehensive six-year study of the mammalian family tree, scientists have identified and reconstructed what they say is the most likely common ancestor of the many species on the most abundant and diverse branch of that tree — the branch of creatures that nourish their young in utero through a placenta. The work appears to support the view that in the global extinctions some 66 million years ago, all non-avian dinosaurs had to die for mammals to flourish.
Scientists had been searching for just such a common genealogical link and have found it in a lowly occupant of the fossil record, Protungulatum donnae, that until now has been so obscure that it lacks a colloquial nickname. But as researchers reported Thursday in the journal Science, the animal had several anatomical characteristics for live births that anticipated all placental mammals and led to some 5,400 living species, from shrews to elephants, bats to whales, cats to dogs and, not least, humans.
John Noble Wilford of The New York Times has the post: Link