A new analysis of extinct sea creatures suggests that the transition from egg-laying to live-born young opened up evolutionary pathways that allowed these ancient species to adapt to and thrive in open oceans.
The evolutionary sleuthing is described this week in the journal Nature by scientists at Harvard University and the University of Reading who also report that the evolution of live-born young depended crucially on the advent of genes -- rather than incubation temperature -- as the primary determinant of offspring sex.
Having drawn this link in three lineages of extinct marine reptiles -- mosasaurs, sauropterygians, and ichthyosaurs -- the scientists say that genetic, or chromosomal, sex determination may have played a surprisingly strong role in adaptive radiations and the colonization of the world's oceans by a diverse array of species.
"Determining sex with genetic mechanisms allowed marine reptiles to give live birth, in the water, as opposed to laying eggs on a nesting beach," says Chris Organ, a research fellow in Harvard's Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology. "This freed these species from the need to move and nest on land. As a consequence extreme physical adaptations evolved in each group, such as the fluked tails, dorsal fins, and the wing-like limbs of ichthyosaurs."
Mosasaurs, sauropterygians, and ichthyosaurs invaded the Mesozoic seas between 251 million and 100 million years ago. All three groups of extinct marine reptiles breathed air, but evolved other adaptations to life in the open ocean, such as fin-shaped limbs, streamlined bodies, and changes in bone structure. Some evolved into enormous predators, such as porpoise-like ichthyosaurs that grew to more than 20 meters in length. Ichthyosaurs, and possibly mosasaurs, even evolved tail-first birth, an adaptation that helps modern whales and porpoises avoid drowning during birth.
"Losing the requirement of dry land during the life cycle of ichthyosaurs and other marine reptiles freed them to lead a completely aquatic existence, a shift that seems advantageous in light of the diversification that followed," says Daniel E. Janes, a research associate in Harvard's Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology.
Even though populations of most animals have males and females, the way sex is determined in offspring varies. Some animals rely primarily on sex chromosomes, as in humans where two X chromosomes make a female and an X and a Y chromosome make a male. Among living marine species, whales, porpoises, manatees, and sea snakes have chromosomal sex determination.
In sea turtles and saltwater crocodiles, on the other hand, the sex of offspring is generally determined by the temperature at which eggs incubate. These species are also bound to a semi-terrestrial existence because their gas-exchanging hard-shelled eggs must be deposited on land.
"No one has clearly understood how sex determination has co-evolved with live birth and egg laying," Organ says.
Organ, Janes, and colleagues show that evolution of live birth in a species depends on the prior evolution of genetic sex determination. Since the fossilized remains of pregnant mosasaurs, sauropterygians, and ichthyosaurs show that these species gave birth to live young, they must also have employed genetic sex determination, a point on which the fossil record is silent.
Organ and Janes' co-authors on the Nature paper are Andrew Meade and Mark Pagel of the University of Reading. Their work was funded by Harvard's Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and Museum of Comparative Zoology and by the National Institutes of Health.
Steve Bradt | EurekAlert!
Multi-institutional collaboration uncovers how molecular machines assemble
02.12.2016 | Salk Institute
Fertilized egg cells trigger and monitor loss of sperm’s epigenetic memory
02.12.2016 | IMBA - Institut für Molekulare Biotechnologie der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften GmbH
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy