A team of German, Swiss and U.S. scientists has announced the sequencing of the complete mitochondrial genome of the mastodon.
Michael Hofreiter of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and colleagues said the sequence of the extinct relative of elephants was obtained from a tooth dated to 50,000-130,000 years.
The mastodon is now only the third extinct taxon for which the complete mitochondrial genome is known, joining the woolly mammoth, and several species of Moa, a giant flightless Australasian bird.
The researchers said the sequence showed mammoths are more closely related to Asian than to African elephants. The researchers also determined the time of divergence of African elephants from Asian elephants and mammoths occurred about 7.6 million years ago and the time of divergence between mammoths and Asian elephants about 6.7 million years ago.
The researchers note those dates are strikingly similar to the divergence time for humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas, raising the possibility that the speciation of mammoths and elephants and of humans and African great apes had a common cause.
The findings appear in the open access journal PLoS Biology.