There’s More To Elephants Than You Think

You are probably familiar with elephants…

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Yeah, these guys:

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You were probably taught that there are two species of elephants, Asian elephants, and African elephants. You were also most likely taught that they’re distantly related to Wooly Mammoths.

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It’s true that for years the family Elephantidae was believed to have two extant (currently living) species: Elephas maximus (the Asian elephant) and Loxodonta africana (now known to be the African savanna or bush elephant).

However, in recent decades it has been discovered that African elephants actually fall into two species, Loxodonta cyclotis (the African forest elephant) and Loxodonta africana (the African Savanna Elephant).


(Top photo: African forest elephant; bottom photo: African savanna elephant)

Recently as of 2001, morphological comparisons of skull measurement and molecular tests were performed on nearly 300 elephants, and distinct differences were found between the two kinds of African elephants

The forest elephant differs from the savanna elephant in several distinctive ways, including:

  • Ear shape
  • Tusk anatomy
  • Distinct skull morphology

This lead scientists to often classify the forest elephant as a subspecies, L. a. cyclotis.

However, there was much controversy and these differences were often ignored.

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By using previous data gathered from mitochondrial DNA analyses, scientists have found that the closest living relative of the extinct woolly mammoth is the Asian elephant.

(Top photo: Asian elephant; bottom photo: Wooly Mammoth)

It is now believed that the two species of African elephant actually diverged from one another in the more distant past than Asian elephants diverged from the extinct genus Mammuthus (including Mammuthus primigenius, the woolly mammoth), meaning that African elephants are far less closely related than scientists once believed.

The mtDNA (Mitochondrial DNA) analysis suggests that wooly mammoths and Asian elephants diverged 5.8–7.8 mya (million years ago).

MtDNA analysis also suggests that the 2 species of African elephant diverged earlier; about 6.6–8.8 mya.

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Through DNA analysis scientists discovered a lot of new information about elephants. They realized that African elephants actually fall into not one, but two species. They learned about the extinct woolly mammoth, and its connections to the extant Asian elephant. Finally, scientists concluded that African elephants diverged from one another in the more distant past than Asian elephants diverged from wooly mammoths.

Do you like elephants as much as I do? What do you think about these discoveries? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Sources:

African Elephant photo 1: https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/species-spotlight-african-elephant

Asian Elephant photo 1: http://elelur.com/mammals/asian-elephant.html

Wooly Mammoth photo 1: http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/animals/woolly-mammoth/#woolly-mammoth-standing.jpg

Elephant family photo 1: https://iso.500px.com/baby-elephant-photos/

Nadin Rohland, David Reich, Swapan Mallick, Matthias Meyer, Richard E. Green, Nicholas J. Georgiadis, Alfred L. Roca, Michael Hofreiter “Genomic DNA Sequences from Mastodon and Woolly Mammoth Reveal Deep Speciation of Forest and Savanna Elephants” Plos Biology

Alfred L. Roca, Nicholas Georgiadis, Jill Pecon-Slattery, Stephen J. O’Brien “Genetic Evidence for Two Species of Elephant in Africa” Science Magazine

At-Home Genetic Testing–What Information Should Companies Be Able to Provide?

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When asked about your origins, do you tell others you’re 50% German and 20% Irish and a little bit Polish, Dutch, and French? Have you ever wondered exactly where your family is from? For around $200 you can unlock the secrets of your own genetics. Many online services including 23andMe, Ancestry.com, Orig3n, and others offer kits to test your genes. Simply spit in a tube and send it off with the fee and they’ll send back stats about your roots. Pretty cool, right? But what about the other information they can provide? Your risks for certain cancers, diseases, and other disorders could be given to you in hard numbers. But what do you do with that information?

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When these tests first came out, they handed you an armload of information, but no means to interpret it. The FDA realized that this information was causing people unessescary panic, so they froze the ability to provide information about genetic predisposition to diseases, only allowing companies to provide the public with their family history of origin. This past April (2017) the FDA partially lifted this ban, allowing 23andMe to provide you with your risk for 10 diseases. According to CNN, these diseases are: “Parkinson’s; late-onset Alzheimer’s; celiac disease; a movement disorder called early-onset primary dystonia; a disorder that elevates your risk for lung and liver disease called Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency; a blood clotting disorder Factor XI deficiency; an organ and tissue disorder called Gaucher disease type 1; a red blood cell condition known as G6PD; hereditary hemochromatosis, an iron overload disorder; and hereditary thrombophilia, a blood clot disorder.”

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While it’s amazing that this information is available to you at a low cost, what do you do with it? So you find out you have a 90% of developing Alzheimer’s. There is no cure, no treatment, nothing you can do about it. I would highly recommend talking to a genetic counselor. They can discuss with you what these numbers mean, and what you can do about it. Always keep in mind that your results are not a diagnosis. Even a high risk of a disorder does not guarantee that you will develop it.

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Genetic testing is an amazing scientific advancement. If you can afford it, I would recommend getting your genes tested. You can learn so much about your family history and yourself. Just be aware of the accuracy of the tests and what to do with the information you receive. Happy learning!

Did you like this post?  Have you ever gotten your genes tested?  Tell us about it in the comments below!  Share via Facebook or Twitter, and, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

Resources:

http://www.fox5atlanta.com/health/fox-medical-team/261335319-story

http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/06/health/23andme-fda-approval-genetic-disease-test-bn/index.html