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Retrotransposons jump their way around genomes, leaving copies of themselves behind — sometimes lots of them. According to the Atlantic, about a quarter of the cow genome is just one jumping gene that has copied itself over and over again.

Further, it adds that this gene, dubbed BovB, appears to have come to cows from lizards and snakes, while also finding its way into a number of other animal genomes. Researchers from University of Adelaide have scoured hundreds of genomes for copies of BovB and compared how similar the ones the uncovered were to one another to work out which versions were more closely related to which. The resulting tree was "like a window into a bizarre parallel universe where sheep are more closely related to cobras than they are to elephants," the Atlantic writes.

But just how retrotransposons like BovB have jumped across species isn't clear, it adds. The Adelaide researchers suspect that parasites like bedbugs and ticks might've helped them spread. Adelaide's Atma Ivancevic tells the Atlantic that she wants to sequence BovB in additional animals, including parasites to better re-create the movements of the jumping gene.