The genomics revolution has given them mountains of DNA data that they can sift through to reconstruct the evolutionary history that connects all living beings. But the unprecedented quantity has also caused a serious problem: The trees produced by a number of well-supported studies have come to contradictory conclusions.
Antonis Rokas, Vanderbilt University
Two major phylogenetic studies recently reached contradictory conclusions about whether the snail’s closest relative is the bivalve (clams, oysters, mussels) or an enigmatic group of organisms called tusk shells. The work of the Vanderbilt phylogenists suggests that the conflict is due to the fact that the three groups diverged rapidly a long time ago.
“It has become common for top-notch studies to report genealogies that strongly contradict each other in where certain organisms sprang from, such as the place of sponges on the animal tree or of snails on the tree of mollusks,” said Antonis Rokas, Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair in Biological Sciences at Vanderbilt University.
In a study published online May 8 by the journal Nature, Rokas and graduate student Leonidas Salichos analyze the reasons for these differences and propose a suite of novel techniques that can resolve the contradictions and provide greater accuracy in deciphering the deep branches of life’s tree.
“The study by Salichos and Rokas comes at a critical time when scientists are grappling with how best to detect the signature of evolutionary history from a deluge of genetic data. These authors provide intriguing insights into our standard analytical toolbox, and suggest it may be time to abandon some of our most trusted tools when it comes to the analysis of big data sets. This significant work will certainly challenge the community of evolutionary biologists to rethink how best to reconstruct phylogeny,” said Michael F. Whiting, program director of systematics and biodiversity science at the National Science Foundation, which funded the study.
To gain insight into this paradox, Salichos assembled and analyzed more than 1,000 genes – approximately 20 percent of the entire yeast genome – from each of 23 yeast species. He quickly realized that the histories of the 1,000-plus genes were all slightly different from each other as well as different from the genealogy constructed from a simultaneous analysis of all the genes.
“I was quite surprised by this result,” Salichos pointed out.
By adapting an algorithm from information theory, the researchers found that they could use these distinct gene genealogies to quantify the conflict and focus on those parts of the tree that are problematic.
In broad terms, Rokas and Salichos found that genetic data is less reliable during periods of rapid radiation, when new species were formed rapidly. A case in point is the Cambrian explosion, the sudden appearance about 540 million years ago of a remarkable diversity of animal species, without apparent predecessors. Before about 580 million years ago, most organisms were very simple, consisting of single cells occasionally organized into colonies.
“A lot of the debate on the differences in the trees has been between studies concerning the ‘bushy’ branches that took place in these ‘radiations’,” Rokas said.
The researchers also found that the further back in time they went the less reliable the genetic data becomes. “Radioactive dating methods are only accurate over a certain time span,” said Rokas. “We think that the value of DNA data might have a similar limit, posing considerable challenges to existing algorithms to resolve radiations that took place in deep time.”The research was supported by National Science Foundation CAREER award DEB-0844968.
Visit Research News @ Vanderbilt for more research news from Vanderbilt. [Media Note: Vanderbilt has a 24/7 TV and radio studio with a dedicated fiber optic line and ISDN line. Use of the TV studio with Vanderbilt experts is free, except for reserving fiber time.]
David F. Salisbury | Vanderbilt University
One step closer to reality
20.04.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Entwicklungsbiologie
The dark side of cichlid fish: from cannibal to caregiver
20.04.2018 | Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien
University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.
Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.
Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.
Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...
Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.
The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...
Stable joint cartilage can be produced from adult stem cells originating from bone marrow. This is made possible by inducing specific molecular processes occurring during embryonic cartilage formation, as researchers from the University and University Hospital of Basel report in the scientific journal PNAS.
Certain mesenchymal stem/stromal cells from the bone marrow of adults are considered extremely promising for skeletal tissue regeneration. These adult stem...
In the fight against cancer, scientists are developing new drugs to hit tumor cells at so far unused weak points. Such a “sore spot” is the protein complex...
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
09.04.2018 | Event News
20.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
20.04.2018 | Interdisciplinary Research
20.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy