Now we know why Cows have become such killers, far more lethal than sharks, they are closelyÂ relatedÂ to snakes:
Genomes are often described as recipe books for living things. If thatâ€™s the case, many of them badly need an editor. For example, around half of the human genome is made up of bits of DNA that have copied themselves and jumped around, creating vast tracts of repetitive sequences. The same is true for the cow genome, where one particular piece of DNA, known as BovB, has run amok. Itâ€™s there in its thousands. Around a quarter of a cowâ€™s DNA is made of BovB sequences or their descendants.
BovB isnâ€™t restricted to cows. If you look for it in other animals, as Ali Morton Walsh from the University of Adelaide did, youâ€™ll find it in elephants, horses, and platypuses. It lurks among the DNA of skinks and geckos, pythons and seasnakes. Itâ€™s there in purple sea urchin, the silkworm and the zebrafish.Â
The obvious interpretation is that BovB was present in the ancestor of all of these animals, and stayed in their genomes as they diversified. If thatâ€™s the case, then closely related species should have more similar versions of BovB. The cow version should be very similar to that in sheep, slightly less similar to those in elephants and platypuses, and much less similar to those in snakes and lizards.
But not so. If you draw BovBâ€™s family tree, it looks like youâ€™ve entered a bizarre parallel universe where cows are more closely related to snakes than to elephants, and where one gecko is more closely related to horses than to other lizards.
This is because BovB isnâ€™t neatly passed down from parent to offspring, as most pieces of animal DNA are. This jumping gene not only hops around genomes, butÂ between them.
Sounds like having horse in your beef pie is the least of your worries.