The Scientific Evidence for Unicorns

Scientists have long known about Elasmotherium sibiricum. This animal, which had a single horn several feet long, is also known as the “Siberian unicorn.”

The bad news for unicorn fans is that this prehistoric animal was believed to have gone extinct 350,000 years ago. The worse news is that it didn’t look like a horse. It probably looked more like a woolly mammoth or a rhinoceros. It was about six feet tall, 15 feet long and weighed 9,000 pounds.

Nevertheless, scientists have just made a fascinating discovery about this animal. They recently uncovered an Elasmotherium skull in Kazakhstan that has been dated to 29,000 years ago. This means that Elasmotherium was still around some 300,000 years more recently than previously thought. As a result, humans and unicorns may once have lived alongside each other.

(Note: This story is not to be confused with the announcement from North Korea’s official news agency that archeologists there discovered a unicorn lair. They knew this because the lair had a carved sign in front of it that said “Unicorn Lair.”)

Agilent has long been associated with the scientific analysis of extinct and prehistoric animals. I recently blogged about how an Agilent GC was used in the study of ancient horses.

Historically, scientists have been unable to determine how the five living species of rhinoceros evolved from each other. An international team of scientists employed a DNA-based approach to resolve the contradictory phylogenies. Using an Agilent Bioanalyzer system, they studied mitochondrial DNA fragments from several species of rhinoceros, including one extinct species and two endangered species.

Similarly, German scientists used several Agilent array-based capture solutions – including an Agilent Bioanalyzer system, TapeStation, SureSelect DNA capture array and consumables – to develop a protocol for enriching mitochondrial DNA in ancient or degraded samples.

The researchers believe this approach will someday become commonplace in evolutionary studies.

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