In January 2022, several French researchers from the Jacques Monod Institute of the University of Paris made a major discovery. Progress achieved with the support of the laboratory of vertebrate evolution and human origin of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. This group of researchers have provided evidence of the first hybrid animal in human history, the Kungas.
For decades an animal called Kunga has been known. Remains of this rare animal were found in the ruins of Umm el-Marra. This was an important Syrian city that belonged to the Mediterranean Levant in ancient times.
It was a region with great commercial importance and at its peak housed more than 5,000 thousand inhabitants. There we found a cemetery where the vestiges of the Kungas were found, an ancient breed of equids that had not been fully identified until now.
Thanks to the combination of DNA sequencing technologies, it was established that this equine is the first hybrid animal in history.
These vestiges belong to a series of 25 kungas by different DNA sequencing methodologies. Due to the great deterioration of the genetic material attributable to the climatic conditions of the area, especially the temperature, it was necessary to innovate to obtain more information.
Table of Contents.
What is a hybrid animal?
A hybrid animal is the result of a cross between two species with high genetic similarity. But in these cases, their genetic differences are substantial enough for these offspring to be infertile.
It seems that raising hybrid animals makes no sense, but nothing could be further from the truth. In genetic theory appears a concept called “hybrid vigor” or heterosis.
Genetic differences between two individuals of a species allow genome errors to be compensated for with a pair of copies. These copies allow that as long as one is defective the other can substitute its function and beget a complete individual. Thus, the greater the genetic differences between individuals, the greater the genetic resistance and adaptability of the progeny.
This is how, as the differences increase, the chances of genetic adaptability are greater. Thanks to this, hybrid animals inherit the best attributes of their parents in order to enhance the result. However, such are the genetic differences that end up being infertile.
But let’s elaborate a little more on these characteristics.
What are the characteristics of hybrid animals?
Typical characteristics common among hybrid animals are:
- They are the result of the crossing of two animals of different species. These animals must be genetically similar enough to produce offspring, but different enough not to belong to the same species.
- They are infertile: Due to the substantial differences between the genome of their parents, they are unable to father. This generates a problem because two species must be bred to be able to cross them and obtain the desired result.
- Obtain physical and psychic attributes from their parents: Depending on the genetic strength of the genes, the resulting hybrid animal obtains attributes from both its female and male parent.
- They tend to live longer, to be more adaptable to the environment, and to suffer fewer genetic problems and diseases.
Thanks to this, hybrid animals have obtained an important place in human society. Recall that we did an article about mules and hinnies, hybrid animals that are widely used today.
These potentialities make them more valuable and useful than their parents. This is how the Kungas in ancient times were very valuable, but we will talk about that below.
The value of the Kungas in ancient times.
The Kungas are animals that preceded the incursion of the horse into the Eastern world. These are reflected in the archaeological remains of ancient tablets that use cuneiform writing, typical of the Sumerians.
In these tablets are references to the breeding of equine animals. These animals in the references are called Kungas and are indicated to be bred for the following purposes:
- Religious ceremonies
- Diplomatic functions
- War and battle technology
According to archaeological records, Kungas were worth 6 times more than a normal donkey. This indicates the high value of these equids.
Probably, their infertility was one of the attributes that made them scarce and therefore valuable. But there are also the attributes where they acquire the best characteristics of their parents, which made them very special.
But how it was determined that the Kungas were hybrid animals. Here we tell you.
Modern techniques used to unearth the past
In order to obtain sufficient information on the deteriorated genetic material of the 25 skeletons found, different techniques had to be combined:
- Nuclear DNA sequencing: This DNA is inherited from both the female and male parts, as it is a mixture of both genetic materials. Thanks to this we can value the contribution of both male and female in the progeny. This analysis is performed by sequencing nuclear DNA
- Mitochondrial DNA sequencing analysis: This DNA is inherited exclusively from females of the species and has fewer pairs. This DNA is found in the cell’s mitochondria, which are the structures that provide energy to the cell. This analysis is performed using the polymerase chain reaction technique -PCR- to mitochondrial DNA. It only allows to analyze and follow the female roots of the species
By combining both techniques and complementing them, it was possible to obtain a genetic profile of the kungas.
Moreover, this information was compared with several genetic profiles of equids from the region whose existence was temporarily compatible.
One of the genetic profiles was that of the remains of some Hemipos. The hemipo is a team known as the Syrian wild ass, a subspecies domesticated by the Sumerians and now extinct. One was an 11,000-year-old hemipo and two others were the last extant hemipos before its extinction.
Thanks to these comparisons it was confirmed that the Kungas were descendants of male hemipos and female asses.
Kungas, the intrinsic value of differences
Due to the age of the vestiges, we confirm that the Kungas are the first hybrid animals in history, so far.
Hence its high value, remember the theory of hybrid vigor. This hybrid vigor makes the genetic differences between the two parents make their offspring stronger and more resistant.
In this way we see that genetics shows us that our differences strengthen us, as long as we know how to accept them. Well-understood differences make us more flexible and adaptable. Conversely, stubbornness and desires for unique races or thoughts castrate our flexibility and lead to failure.
Let us find in our differences our greatest strengths.