How the kangaroo got its hop 'uncovered'

How the kangaroo got its hop 'uncovered'

An international team, led by University of Melbourne, has pinpointed a cluster of genes it believes are responsible for the animals' unusual form of locomotion, the latest issue of the 'Genome Biology' journal reported.

In fact, the scientists have identified HOX -- a cluster of genes -- key to the development of the kangaroo's enlarged, powerful hind-legs and its distinctive hop, which is common among members of the kangaroo family.

According to them, it's the first time the genome of tammar wallaby, a species belonging to the kangaroo family, has been sequenced, which would provide researchers with the ability to study a key point in mammalian evolution.

Marsupials and placental animals, which include humans, diverged from a common ancestor around 180 million years ago.

By comparing the wallaby genome with those of placental mammals, the scientists have been able to identify several groups of genes that are unique to marsupials.

The tammar genome contains one of the largest families of genes required for detecting smell compared to other mammals. The scientists found it has more than 1,500 genes responsible for detecting smells.

It suggests the tammar wallaby can detect a wide range of odours, which might help explain how the tiny bean-sized newborn wallaby can navigate it's way through its mother's fur to her pouch where it remains for nine months as it grows.

"The tammar wallaby sequencing project has provided us with many possibilities for understanding how marsupials are so different to us," 'The Daily Telegraph' quoted Prof Marilyn Renfree, who led the team, as saying.

The rabbit-sized tammar wallaby is the third marsupial to have its genome sequenced, after the grey short-tailed opossum and the endangered Tasmanian devil.

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