Multiple molecular evidences for a living mammalian fossil

Dorothée Huchon*, Pascale Chevret, Ursula Jordan, C. William Kilpatrick, Vincent Ranwez, Paulina D. Jenkins, Jürgen Brosius, Jürgen Schmitz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Laonastes aenigmamus is an enigmatic rodent first described in 2005. Molecular and morphological data suggested that it is the sole representative of a new mammalian family, the Laonastidae, and a member of the Hystricognathi. However, the validity of this family is controversial because fossil-based phylogenetic analyses suggest that Laonastes is a surviving member of the Diatomyidae, a family considered to have been extinct for 11 million years. According to these data, Laonastes and Diatomyidae are the sister clade of extant Ctenodactylidae (i.e., gundies) and do not belong to the Hystricognathi. To solve the phylogenetic position of Laonastes, we conducted a large-scale molecular phylogeny of rodents. The analysis includes representatives of all major rodent taxonomic groups and was based on 5.5 kb of sequence data from four nuclear and two mitochondrial genes. To further validate the obtained results, a short interspersed element insertion analysis including 11 informative loci was also performed. Our molecular data based on sequence and short interspersed element analyses unambiguously placed Laonastes as a sister clade of gundies. All alternative hypotheses were significantly rejected based on Shimodaira-Hasegawa tests, supporting the idea that Laonastes does not belong to the Hystricognathi. Molecular dating analysis also supports an ancient divergence, ≈44 Mya ago, between Ctenodactylidae and Laonastes. These combined analyses support the hypothesis that Laonastes is indeed a living fossil. Protection of this surviving species would conserve an ancient mammalian family.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7495-7499
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number18
StatePublished - 1 May 2007


  • Laonastes aenigmamus
  • Molecular phylogeny
  • Retroposons
  • Rodent


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