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October 8 2012
The common ancestor of modern mammals was tiny and shrewlike, living unobtrusively in the shadow of the dinosaurs – or so we thought. A genetic analysis now suggests it may have been more like a small monkey in size.
Fossils indicate that some larger mammals shared the dinosaurs' world, but palaeontologists think that they all disappeared alongside the giant reptiles. Only tiny mammals survived, giving rise to all modern forms.
Nicolas Galtier of the Institute of Evolutionary Sciences in Montpellier, France, begs to differ. With colleagues, he used common features in the genomes of 36 modern mammals to sketch out the genome of the creature from which they descended.
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