Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Scientists Discover Where Snakes Lived When They Evolved into Limbless Creatures

02.02.2004


The mystery of where Earth’s first snakes lived as they were evolving into limbless creatures from their lizard ancestors has intrigued scientists for centuries. Now, the first study ever to analyze genes from all the living families of lizards has revealed that snakes made their debut on the land, not in the ocean. The discovery resolves a long-smoldering debate among biologists about whether snakes had a terrestrial or a marine origin roughly 150 million years ago--a debate rekindled recently by controversial research in favor of the marine hypothesis.





In a paper to be published in the 7 May 2004 issue of the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, Nicolas Vidal, a postdoctoral fellow, and S. Blair Hedges, a professor of biology at Penn State, describe how they put the two theories to the test. They collected the largest genetic data set for snakes and lizards ever used to address this question. Their collection includes two genes from 64 species representing all 19 families of living lizards and 17 of the 25 families of living snakes.

Genetic material from some of the lizards was difficult to obtain because some species live only on certain small islands or in remote parts of the world. "We felt it was important to analyze genes from all the lizard groups because almost every lizard family has been suggested as being the one most closely related to snakes. If we had failed to include genes from even one of the lizard families, we could have missed getting the right answer," Hedges explains.


"For the marine hypothesis to be correct, snakes must be the closest relative of the only lizards known to have lived in the ocean when snakes evolved—the giant, extinct mosasaur lizards," Vidal says. "While we can’t analyze the genes of the extinct mosasaurs, we can use the genes of their closest living cousins, monitor lizards like the giant Komodo Dragon," he explains.

The team analyzed gene sequences from each of the species, using several statistical methods to determine how the species are related. "Although these genes have the same function in each species—and so, by definition, are the same gene—their structure in each species is slightly different because of mutations that have developed over time," Vidal explains. When the genetic comparisons were complete, Vidal and Hedges had a family tree showing the relationships of the species.

"Our results show clearly that snakes are not closely related to monitor lizards like the giant Komodo Dragon, which are the closest living relatives of the mosasaurs—the only known marine lizard living at the time that snakes evolved," Vidal says. "Because all the other lizards at that time lived on the land, our study provides strong evidence that snakes evolved on the land, not in the ocean."

The research suggests an answer to another long-debated question: why snakes lost their limbs. Their land-based lifestyle, including burrowing underground at least some of the time, may be the reason. "Having limbs is a real problem if you need to fit through small openings underground, as anybody who has tried exploring in caves knows," Hedges says. "Your body could fit through much smaller openings if you did not have the wide shoulders and pelvis that support your limbs." The researchers note that the burrowing lifestyle of many other species, including legless lizards, is correlated with the complete loss of limbs or the evolution of very small limbs.

This research was supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Astrobiology Institute and the National Science Foundation.

Barbara K. Kennedy | Penn State
Further information:
http://www.science.psu.edu/alert/Hedges1-2004.htm

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Study shines light on brain cells that coordinate movement
26.06.2017 | University of Washington Health Sciences/UW Medicine

nachricht New insight into a central biological dogma on ion transport
26.06.2017 | Aarhus 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: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Study shines light on brain cells that coordinate movement

26.06.2017 | Life Sciences

Smooth propagation of spin waves using gold

26.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Switchable DNA mini-machines store information

26.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>