• The shrew species recently discovered in Narcondam in Andaman and Nicobar Islands is about 10 cm long.
  • The Geological era that we live in is called the anthropocene. This is because of the global impact that humans and their activities have made after they evolved.
  • A notable effect of changes seen in the anthropocene has been a rapid increase in the rate of extinction of other species.
  • However, skeptics of climate change keep pointing to the large discrepancies in the extinction rates published by various researchers.
  • The online magazine, Yale Environment 360, has reported a range of 24 to 150 species lost per day. Either of these numbers is alarming.
  • A total of about 1,000 species of animals have been actually documented to have gone extinct in the last 400 years.
  • In India, a few groups (at the IISc Bengaluru, University of Delhi, Kerala Forest Research Institute, etc.) have made stellar contributions to lists of new discoveries.

Looking for new species

  • Finding new species can be a painstaking work. Many new species are found in biodiversity hotspots that are heaven for snakes and mosquitos, but are not very hospitable to humans.
  • Scientists from the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), Kolkata found a new species of shrew on the island of Narcondam, a part of the Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and named it crociduranarcondamica (Scientific Reports, 2021). This shrew is found nowhere else.
  • Narcondam is a small island and has a dormant volcano. Nearly all of it is densely forested.
  • Shrews earned an undeserving, ill-tempered reputation in a work of Shakespeare. But the animal itself is rather secretive.
  • They are small in size; our own recent discovery being about 10 cm long. Their hearts can beat at 1,000 times per minute.
  • The accelerated extinction of life forms has led to major initiatives to sequence as many species as possible.
  • There is a hope that with scientific advances, we may have ‘Jurassic Park’ scenarios where at least some extinct life forms are brought back to life.
  • At a more prosaic level, comparing genomes can provide clues for the betterment of human health. A regularly updated Wikipedia list of completely sequenced genomes lists 100 bird species and 150 mammals. Many more are needed.

The Nicobar treeshrew

  • It is, therefore, heartening to know that the laboratories of the ZSI have published the mitochondrial genome sequence of another rare mammal endemic to the Nicobar Islands — the Nicobar treeshrew (Scientific Reports, 2022).
  • Treeshrews are not really shrews; more closely resembling squirrels. They are considered to be promising models for the study of influenza H1N1 and Hepatitis virus infections.
  • Let us hope that the ZSI will sequence the whole genome of the Nicobar treeshrew soon.


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