Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Komodo Dragon Christmas Miracle!

( A nativity story with a twist is playing out this Christmas in two zoos in the UK. At Chester Zoo, a Komodo dragon named Flora awaits the birth of eight babies, and another four dragons have already hatched at London Zoo — each and every one the product of a virgin conception.
The miraculous births, which are all males, could be a product of keeping this threatened species in captivity, say researchers, and could have implications for the continued health of zoo-bound populations. Parthenogenesis — reproduction without the need for fertilization by a male — is rare in vertebrates. Some animals, including several lizard species, are known to be capable of it. But Komodo dragons have never been seen to breed like this before. Yet in the space of 8 months, two of the three Komodo dragons in the UK have reproduced parthenogenetically. Zoo keepers knew something strange was happening because the female dragons had not been around any males within the period during which they must have become pregnant. To confirm the dragons' parentage, a team led by Phillip Watts at the University of Liverpool used genetic fingerprinting.
Their results, published in Nature this week, show that the dragon sons are not direct clones of their mothers, but that the babies' DNA contains half as much variation as is present in the mother's genes, indicating that it represents a doubling up of one set of mother's chromosomes. The results show that no other Komodo dragon could have been involved in their conception.


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