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 Nanoparticle Exposure Can Awaken Dormant Viruses in the Lungs
16.01.2017 | Helmholtz Zentrum München - Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt

nachricht Cholera bacteria infect more effectively with a simple twist of shape
13.01.2017 | Princeton University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

Im Focus: Bacterial Pac Man molecule snaps at sugar

Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.

The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...

Im Focus: Newly proposed reference datasets improve weather satellite data quality

UMD, NOAA collaboration demonstrates suitability of in-orbit datasets for weather satellite calibration

"Traffic and weather, together on the hour!" blasts your local radio station, while your smartphone knows the weather halfway across the world. A network of...

Im Focus: Repairing defects in fiber-reinforced plastics more efficiently

Fiber-reinforced plastics (FRP) are frequently used in the aeronautic and automobile industry. However, the repair of workpieces made of these composite materials is often less profitable than exchanging the part. In order to increase the lifetime of FRP parts and to make them more eco-efficient, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) and the Apodius GmbH want to combine a new measuring device for fiber layer orientation with an innovative laser-based repair process.

Defects in FRP pieces may be production or operation-related. Whether or not repair is cost-effective depends on the geometry of the defective area, the tools...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Energy-Efficient Building Operation: Monitoring Platform MONDAS Identifies Energy-Saving Potential

16.01.2017 | Trade Fair News

Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

16.01.2017 | Architecture and Construction

Sensory Stimuli Control Dopamine in the Brain

13.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>