Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

New genomic data helps resolve biology’s tree of life

23.10.2003


For more than a century, biologists have been working to assign plants, animals and microbes their respective places on the tree of life. More recently, by comparing DNA sequences from a few genes per species, scientists have been trying to construct a grand tree of life that accurately portrays the course of life on Earth, and shows how all organisms are related, one to another.



However, despite the detailed insights provided by individual genes, that approach has proved cumbersome in its ability to resolve the order of events in the distant past.

Now, a team of scientists from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, writing in the current issue (Oct. 23) of the prestigious journal Nature, has shown that new genomic-scale data offers powerful, unprecedented resolution of the evolutionary tree.


The finding is important because an accurate depiction of a tree of life promises biologists a summary of the history of life on Earth over billions of years. Such a rigorous historical framework is an essential backdrop not just for evolutionary biology, but also for efforts as diverse as the search for new drugs and agricultural agents, studies of emerging diseases, and evaluating issues of species conservation and ecosystem restoration.

"The overall goal is that we want to know who is related to whom," says Sean B. Carroll, a UW-Madison professor of genetics and the senior author of the Nature paper. "The challenge has been to decipher the true tree from those that have changed as data have been added and re-analyzed over time."

In efforts to arrive at a reliable tree of life, scientists since the 1980s have used genes to infer the evolutionary history for various organisms. By comparing one or a few genes common to related animals or plants, and looking at differences in the selected genes, scientists began to map out family trees for different plants, animals and microbes.

The problem with that approach, according to the new Wisconsin study, is that trees constructed on single genes often seem to lack reliability. Different genes give different answers so that one gene from a group of organisms depicts one tree, while a different gene from the same organisms will paint an entirely different phylogenetic picture. More genes, it has been thought, could help resolve the issue, and the new Wisconsin study now provides the first glimpse at both just how unreliable single genes can be and how many genes might be needed to overcome the problem.

Using new genomic sequences from eight yeast species, the group in Carroll’s lab, which was led by post-doctoral fellows Antonis Rokas, Barry L. Williams and Nicole King, were able to assess the reliability of trees constructed using more than 100 genes. The result was a single tree with no doubt.

"We were shocked. We didn’t expect such an unprecedented level of resolution," says Rokas. "Some genes give you one story, some genes give you another, but with enough of them together we get a single picture."

Apparently, the catch with the single gene model is that some of the thousands of nucleotides that make up a gene can be biased as natural selection acts on the gene to fulfill a certain role. "Each gene carries information concerning both history and selection. Genes alone are biased, but together their shared history overrides each genes’ unique bias and provides a surprisingly strong picture of evolution," says Williams.

The implications of the study are exciting, and provide encouraging news for the future of understanding the tree of life, says Carroll. As the data sets get larger the influence of variation caused by natural selection becomes small enough that true historical relationships can be worked out.

"The problem is that molecules don’t all change in the same way," says Carroll. "Now, with whole genomes being deciphered at a rapid clip, long-standing questions about the relationships between various animals and plants appear to be within our reach."

The take home message, according to Williams and Rokas, is that the advent of the genomic age means the data necessary to build robust phylogenetic trees are coming on line. Already, scientists have genomic sequences for a number of different organisms, ranging from bacteria to humans.

"It’s time for people to scale up, " says Rokas. "By increasing the amount of data, we will see a more robust picture of the tree of life."


-- Terry Devitt 608-262-8282, trdevitt@wisc.edu

ADDITIONAL CONTACT: Antonis Rokas 608-265-2004, arokas@wisc.edu; Barry L. Williams 608-265-2004, bwilliams2@wisc.edu

Terry Devitt | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.wisc.edu/

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht A Map of the Cell’s Power Station
18.08.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

nachricht On the way to developing a new active ingredient against chronic infections
18.08.2017 | Deutsches Zentrum für Infektionsforschung

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A Map of the Cell’s Power Station

18.08.2017 | Life Sciences

Engineering team images tiny quasicrystals as they form

18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Researchers printed graphene-like materials with inkjet

18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>