Monday, March 26, 2001

Mastodon's meal leads to gene finding

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Saving part of an ancient mastodon's partially digested meal in an office refrigerator has led to a scientific discovery by a group of Ohio Wesleyan University students.

        Using a sample of digested plant food, which also included cells from the animal's intestinal lining, the group has been able to reconstruct about one-third of a mitochondrial mastodon gene.

        It's not enough to clone the animal, but sufficient enough to begin making comparisons to modern-day elephants.

        Seniors Anice Sabag and Erin Wagner will report results of their research Saturday at the annual meeting of the Ohio Academy of Science at Mount Union College in Alliance.

        Their report will include a finding that one of the gene fragments was 83 percent to 95 percent identical to the same gene structure in the African elephant.

        Similar evolutionary comparisons have been made but were based on bone structure and appearance, not on DNA analysis.

        “The evolution of elephants is not really known,” OWU microbiologist Jerry Goldstein said. “The hypothesis is that the American mastodon was closely related to the Siberian mammoth and both were distantly related to the African and Asian elephant.”

        The preserved intestinal contents came from the 1989 excavation of an 11,000-year-old mastodon from a Licking County golf course south of Newark, 30 miles east of Columbus.


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