Making the Impossible Possible: Rooting the Tree of Placental Mammals

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Untangling the root of the evolutionary tree of placental mammals has been nearly an impossible task. The good news is that only three possibilities are seriously considered. The bad news is that all three possibilities are seriously considered. Paleontologists favor a root anchored by Xenarthra (e.g., sloths and anteater), whereas molecular evolutionists have favored the two other possible roots: Afrotheria (e.g., elephants, hyraxes, and tenrecs) and Atlantogenata (Afrotheria + Xenarthra). Now, two groups of researchers have scrutinized the largest available genomic data sets bearing on the question and have come to opposite conclusions, as reported in this issue of Molecular Biology and Evolution. Needless to say, more research is needed.

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