Penguins hold missing pieces of evolutionary puzzle

Adélie penguin. Credit: Griffith University
Adélie penguin. Credit: Griffith University

Antarctica’s humble Adélie penguin is helping scientists shed new light on the process of evolution and may even hold the secret of how animals adapt to climate change.

Griffith University’s Professor of Evolutionary Biology David Lambert used genetically pristine Adélie penguin populations to reach back further in DNA history than thought possible, analysing DNA from living mothers and chicks alongside their ancestors from 44,000 years ago.

David suggests problems in accurately measuring change in DNA led to miscalculations in the past. “If you don’t know the relationship of the ancient animals you’re studying to the modern ones, it’s easy to misinterpret how fast DNA sequences change,” he said.

“Breeding colonies of Adélie penguins have been free of interference from humans in the Antarctic. They have probably returned to the same breeding sites for hundreds of thousands of years. The extreme cold and dry conditions preserved the DNA enabling us to reach back 44,000 years.”

For more information: Griffith University, Skye Roberts, Tel: +61 (7) 5552 8654, skye.roberts@griffith.edu.au

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