Newly extracted DNA from the tooth of a Mastodon has led to some fascinating insights into evolutionary history. Evolutionary biologist at the Max Plank Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany pieced together the first mastodon mitochondrial genome.
The research shows that woolly mammoths are more closely related to Asian Elephants than African Elephants. It also reveals interesting parallels between human and elephant evolution. The research suggests that African Elephants diverged from Mastodons 7.6 million years ago, at around the same time that gorillas were diverging from the line that humans and chimpanzees evolved from. In turn, mammoths and Asian Elephants split 6.7 million years ago, at the same time that hominids split from chimpanzees. Scientists are now wondering if the evolutionary divergences in these very different species were caused by the same cataclysmic events.
Mastodons, one of the Pleistocene megafauna, became extinct around 10,000 years ago. They resembled woolly mammoths, though they were browsers rather than grazers.