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PARIS (AFP) — Arguably the oddest beast in Nature's menagerie, the platypus looks as it if were assembled from spare parts left over after the animal kingdom was otherwise complete.
Now scientists know why. According to a study released Wednesday, the egg-laying critter is a genetic potpourri -- part bird, part reptile and part lactating mammal.
The task of laying bare the platypus genome of 2.2 billion base pairs spread across 18,500 genes has taken several years, but will do far more than satisfy the curiosity of just biologists, say the researchers.
"The platypus genome is extremely important, because it is the missing link in our understanding of how we and other mammals first evolved," explained Oxford University's Chris Ponting, one of the study's architects.
"This is our ticket back in time to when all mammals laid eggs while suckling their young on milk."