Scientists have finally solved a 41-year-old mystery involving an ancient eggshell of a large, extinct land bird with a demonic nickname.
In 1981, researchers in Australia discovered the charred remains of numerous eggs from multiple cooking fires used by prehistoric humans some 50,000 years ago. Some of the eggs have been identified as emus eggs. But a few oversized specimens belonged to a second, unknown bird. For years, scientists debated the identity of this large bird. But given the size and age of the eggs, two contenders have emerged over time: programa group of large turkey-like birds, or genjornissometimes referred to as “Demon Ducks of Destiny” because of their enormous size and evolutionary relationship to the smaller waterfowl.
Now a new analysis using sophisticated protein sequencing technology and artificial intelligence has ended the debate. The results, which were published on May 24 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesdetermine the identity of the eggs as determined Genyornis newtoniAustralia’s last “Thunderbird”.
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Genyornis newtoni was an intimidating creature. It stood over 2 meters tall and tipped the scales at up to 240 kilograms made up of beak, bones and feather-covered muscles Australian Museum. “I imagine having that mega duck looking down on you should be pretty annoying!” The study’s lead author Beatrice Demarchi, an archaeologist who studies bones and other organic materials at the University of Turin in Italy, told Live Science in an email.
Appropriately, these mega ducks also laid large eggs; each weighed about 3 pounds, about the size of a melon. genjornis‘ Giant eggs would have been an ideal source of protein for the Aborigines of Australia, provided they could safely collect them from the nests of the large birds. In fact, the scientists now suspect that people’s appetite for the melon-sized eggs may have contributed to the propulsion genjornis to extinction, acc The Natural History Museum, London.
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While parts of a fossilized egg may not be as noticeable as a fossilized skull, “small and everyday things like eggshells can reveal a lot about what the environment was like,” Demarchi said. Curiosity about this ancient environment led researchers to re-examine mussel fragments discovered at two Australian sites in the 1980s using a different technique: protein sequencing.
When scientists try to identify a specific species, DNS Sequencing is usually preferred to protein sequencing. Proteins don’t mutate as quickly or randomly as DNA, meaning their genetic signatures are harder to spot. “However, they last about 10 times longer than DNA,” meaning there may be abundant proteins conserved in older material where much of the DNA has eroded over time, Demarchi said. Given the age and burial temperature of the eggshell fragments (which had been cooked over an open flame), most of the DNA in the egg samples was too decomposed to be useful. However, the proteins were still in relatively good shape.
After sequencing these molecules and determining which genes would have produced them, the researchers used a special algorithm to compare their results to the genomes of more than 350 living bird species. The results showed that the eggs were not laid by a group of large-footed gallinaceous birds called megapods and were therefore not one of the program Genus, co-author of the study Josefin Stiller, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, said in a expression.
Research like this offers valuable insight into human impact on nature, showing that where our ancestors lived and what they ate may have contributed to the extinction of certain species. Though the so-called demon ducks are no more, the lessons of our past interactions with them continue to resonate. Demarchi and her colleagues hope to continue their work “to look at other large birds from the past and work out their relationships with humans at different points in time,” Demarchi said.
Originally published on Live Science.
https://www.livescience.com/demon-duck-of-doom-eggs ‘Demon ducks of doom’ laid melon-size eggs in prehistoric Australia