Today’s Solutions: May 22, 2022

When someone says the word ‘bioengineered’ most people would say they think of lab grown cancer causing crops. However, this is actually extremely far from the truth. A new study, published in Science Advances, shows a genetic modification of animals can be dated all the way back to ancient Mesopotamian times, 4,500 years ago.

Ancient bioengineering

All that is meant by this ‘scary’ term are organisms that have been selectively bred for certain features. Through excavated remains, researchers think Mesopotamians utilized this handy trick to create “kungas”. These were a donkey-like animal that ancient humans bred to be strong and fast for their job of pulling war wagons. Incredibly this was actually 500 years before horses were even bred for a purpose!

Although, as they were created from crossing over multiple species, the offsprings were sterile. This difficult breeding process and the marvel of human capability to alter the natural world, gives a solid explanation of why these animals were expensive and well sought after according to ancient records.

Finding the parents

“From the skeletons, we knew they were equids [horse-like animals], but they did not fit the measurements of donkeys and they did not fit the measurements of Syrian wild asses,” said study co-author Eva-Maria Geigl, a geneticist at the Institut Jacques Monod in Paris. Analysis of ancient DNA allowed the researchers to build on this theory and come to a more exact conclusion. Through comparison with Syrian wild ass and donkey DNA, it would be shown that kungas were a hybrid of the two.

Scientists and historians alike were delighted at the finding of these kunga skeletons, as they solidly confirm exactly what beasts were depicted in ancient drawings and texts, and also showed the earliest bio-engineered organisms in human history.

Source study: Science AdvancesThe genetic identity of the earliest human-made hybrid animals, the kungas of Syro-Mesopotamia

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