A new paper published in the scientific journal Nature reports that bats and dolphins share genetic signatures that correlate to echolocation – the ability to emit sounds and listen to their echoes to determine the position of distant objects – in 200 regions of the genome. The research offers evidence to support a burgeoning idea in genomics that animals that inhabit similar environments might, independent of each other, evolve to have similar genetic makeups.
The most recent common ancestor of bats and whales lived at least 60 million years ago, says Joe Parker, a biologist at Queen Mary University of London and a coauthor on the paper, in an email interview. It’s improbable that this ancestor could echolocate, but both bats and dolphins have been using some form of echolocation for at least 10 to 20 million years, he said. That means that, in the some 40 million years following the split, two unrelated and otherwise dissimilar animals developed the same innovation.