Ancient DNA

Tuatara (kind of reptile)

Fans of Jurassic Park, listen up!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

The tuatara is an ancient reptile with close ties to dinosaurs. It looks like a lizard, but has TEETH — and triple-digit birthdays! What makes this critter so special?

Neil Gemmell and an international team of researchers traveled to New Zealand to find out. The team worked closely with the Maori people, who view the tuatara as the guardians of knowledge. The researchers collected blood
samples and analyzed the reptile’s DNA to understand its evolution.

Results? Gemmell’s team cracked the secrets of this living fossil! The tuatara diverged from lizards and snakes more than two hundred and fifty million years ago. Its genome contains many genes that protect against DNA damage. These protective genes may explain its slow rate of evolution and longevity.

Despite similarities to modern lizards, the tuatara is truly one of a kind! This reptile represents an entire branch in the evolution between lizards, reptiles, and birds.

Reminds me another rare, wrinkly green cutie… Little baby Yoda! Also very wise is he!

Reference: Gemmell, N. J., Rutherford, K., Prost, S., Tollis, M., Winter, D., Macey, J. R., Adelson, D. L., Suh, A., Bertozzi, T., Grau, J. H., Organ, C., Gardner, P. P., Muffato, M., Patricio, M., Billis, K., Martin, F. J., Flicek, P., Petersen, B., Kang, L., … Stone, C. (2020). The tuatara genome reveals ancient features of amniote evolution. Nature, 584(7821), 403–409.