London: Cattle today are believed to be descended in most cases from Near East animals.
Scientists have analyzed the DNA of ancient giant European wild cattle that died out almost 400 years ago.
“They have determined the first mitochondrial genome sequence from aurochs from bone found in a cave in England.
Mitochondrial DNA is passed down from a mother to her offspring.
One of the researchers involved, Dr Ceiridwen Edwards, has previously investigated the remains of a polar bear found in the Scottish Highlands,” reports BBC.
The aurochs were giant and shaggy cows. They died out completely.
The aurochs DNA was extracted from well-preserved bone recovered from a cave site in Derbyshire and radiocarbon-dated to the Mesolithic period more than 6,000 years ago.
The bone pre-dates the farming of animals in Britain by more than 1,000 years.
Dr Edwards said a project was now under way to sequence and assemble a complete aurochs nuclear genome by the end of the year.
While there are many copies of mtDNA to be found in cells there are only two copies of nuclear DNA - one from the father and one from the mother - making it harder to find.
Previous genetic studies have suggested most modern livestock are descended from cattle that arrived in Europe from the Neolithic Near East.
However, some aurochs may also have been domesticated.
Dr Edwards said the larger cattle were possibly harder for early farmers to manage.
She said: "My personal theory is the Near East cattle were smaller and more docile and easier to domesticate. The aurochs were larger and maybe people didn't really want to mess with them."
Aurochs were found in many parts of Great Britain, but not Ireland, and also populated most of Eurasia.
The species became extinct when a female animal died in a forest in Poland in 1627.
Roman general and Dictator Julius Caesar was said to have been impressed by the size of aurochs.
Adolf Hitler wanted to recreate the cattle through selective breeding as a symbol of the Third Reich's belief in racial superiority.
Herman Goering, one of his commanders, wanted to introduce the animal to a hunting range planned for conquered Eastern Europe territories.
First Published: Wednesday, February 17, 2010, 16:39