Hair may have helped mice outlive the dinosaurs
The T-Rex dinosaur (pictured) may have been the most ferocious creature in the jungle, but something as simple as growing hair may have helped mammal-like reptiles to outlive this scary beast.
This conclusion follows groundbreaking research by University of the Witwatersrand scientists, who are shedding light on the ancestry of mammals and the origin of hair.
Dr Julien Benoit and his colleagues, professors Paul Manger and Bruce Rubidge, scanned the fossil remains of mammal-like reptiles from the Karoo. They found that well before the Mesozoic age, the reptiles called therapsids may have evolved hair and the use of whiskers as a sensory tool to operate at night.
“Whiskers are an amazing sensory tool to have when you are nocturnal, and the evolution of whiskers possibly assisted in the survival of the therapsids – and more specifically the probainognathians – which eventually evolved into mammals as we know them today,” said Benoit.
Based on anatomical observations in probainognathians, it appears that the MSX2 gene underwent a significant change in its expression 240 million to 246 million years ago and triggered the evolution of many typical mammalian traits, including hair and whiskers, an enlarged cerebellum, complete ossification of the skull roof and, more importantly, the mammary glands that define mammals today.
– Staff reporter