Early Polar Bear Discovered in Arctic Tundra

Science Now – Digging in the frozen tundra of Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, scientists have uncovered the remains of the most ancient polar bear ever found. DNA analyses reveal that the bear—a mature male—lived about 120,000 years ago, at a time when wooly mammoths were also roaming the land. The work also shows that this bear represents something very rare in the fossil record: an evolutionary snapshot of one species turning into another. “This is the most exciting new development in polar bear research in recent years,” says biologist and polar bear expert Ian Stirling of the University of Alberta in Edmonton. The discovery of the fossil is a major breakthrough.

View abstract: “Complete mitochondrial genome of a Pleistocene jawbone unveils the origin of polar bear” (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 2010, March 16, Vol. 107, no. 11, pp. 5053-5057).

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