June 1, 2010
Most mammals can trace their origins to a single ancestral species. But in the Caribbean islands of the Lesser Antilles, there is a fruit bat with a far more complex family tree. Artibeus schwartzi’sgenome is a hybrid mish-mash of DNA inherited from no less than three separate ancestors. One of these is probably extinct and the other two of which still live on the same island chain. It’s a fusion bat, a sort of fuzzy, winged spork.
The ancestry of A.schwartzi has puzzled scientists for almost three decades, and the idea that it’s a hybrid has been mooted before. Peter Larsen from Texas Tech University confirmed the bat’s unique ancestry by sequencing DNA from 237 individuals belonging to the seven fruit bat species of the Lesser Antilles. He found that A.schwartzi’s main genome is a cross between those of two other fruit bats, A. jamaicensis and A. planirostris, with a tiny minority of sequences that don’t match either genome.