Study: Ostriches Inhabited India 25,000 Years Ago

A DNA study of some partly fossilised ostrich egg shells, conducted recently at the Centre of Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCBM), has found that the flightless birds inhabited India about 25,000 years ago.
Although ostriches are native to Africa, several geologists and archaeologists have over time found ostrich egg shell pieces in the South Asian country, mostly in northern Indian province of Rajasthan and central province of Madhya Pradesh. Speaking at an event in southern Indian city of Hyderabad a couple of days ago, CCMB Senior Principal Scientist Kumarasamy Thangaraj said: “We have successfully analysed the ostrich egg shells in our ‘ancient DNA’ facility and established that the egg shells (found in India) are genetically similar to the African ostrich.” He added: “The carbon dating (of the ostrich egg shells) to determine the age shows that they are at least 25,000 years old.”
According to Thangaraj, the origin and evolution of ostriches is widely attributed to the continental drifting of Gondowanaland or Gondowana. Around 150 million years ago, Gondowana was a super-continent, comprising South America, Arabia, Africa, Australia, Antarctica, India and Madagascar of the present times. An initial break-up of this super-continent separated Africa and Indo-Madagascar during the early Cretaceous period – 130 to 100 million years ago. This bio-geographical dispersion eventually led to hopping of ostriches in Africa through Eurasia (the combined continental landmass of Europe and Asia), via land route around 20 million years ago.
Meanwhile, Thangaraj admitted that the continental drift theory for the existence of ostriches in India has not been proven scientifically. He also admitted that only morphological pattern of fragile egg shell pieces, too, was not sufficient to prove the existence of ostrich in India. “It is very difficult to study ancient DNA as it is often broken into small fragments. In this case, the DNA was highly fragmented. So, we could amplify only a smaller overlapping DNA fragment. We are happy that we could get this much information considering that the sample was very old and not well-preserved,” he stressed.
For her part, first author of the study Sonal Jain from the Department of Biotechnology, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee said: “Eggshells are a better substrate than bones for preserving ancient DNA. The intra-crystalline structure of the shell minimises microbial contamination. X-ray diffraction and electron backscattering diffraction studies helped in finding which eggshells were good and which were bad. The shells are made of calcium carbonate. If calcium changes to magnesium and if there is more magnesium then the sample is more degraded.”


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