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DNA from ground sloths’ fossilized dung reveals ecology of lost world

DNA from ground sloths’ fossilized dung reveals ecology of lost world

DNA in fossilized dung from a cave near Las Vegas has revealed the diet of long-extinct Shasta ground sloths. The hairy mammals become extinct about 11,000 years ago. Shaped a bit like giant anteaters, these sloths weighed around 400 pounds and only ate plants. Previous attempts to extract DNA from fossilized dung had failed, but Hendrik Poinar and Svante Pääbo at the Max-Planck Institute, Germany, treated the samples with an agent that broke chemical bonds and freed DNA for analysis. Plants commonly eaten by these sloths were capers and mustards, along with lilies, grasses, mints, and a member of the grape family.

Did you know? Another species of ground sloth, the gigantic Megatherium, weighed more than 5 tons and could be as much as 20 feet tall – larger than an African bull elephant.

1998