UF geneticist contributes to groundbreaking study of bird evolution
Nature abhors a vacuum, which may explain the findings of a new study showing that bird evolution exploded 65 million years ago when nearly everything else on earth -- dinosaurs included -- died out.
The study is part of an ambitious project, published in today's issue of the journal Science, in which hundreds of scientists worldwide have decoded the avian genome.
Edward Braun, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Florida and the UF Genetics Institute, is one of the key scientists who took part in this multi-year project that used nine supercomputers and 400 years of combined computing time to sequence 48 bird genomes representing the 10,500 living species of birds on the planet.
In 2008, Braun worked with scientists at UF and four other institutions to analyze 19 bird genes. This initial study suggested that the diversity of bird evolution occurred very quickly. Now Braun and scientists from Duke University, the Natural History Museum of Denmark, the Beijing Genomics Institute at Shenzhen, the University of Illinois, and many other institutions have built on that effort.
"Six years later, we have whole genomes," he said. "That's a major accomplishment. The ornithology books will change."
The asteroid strike that triggered the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction was bad news for dinosaurs, but may have created an opening for birds.
"The birds we see today probably diversified into that. That's probably why it happened so fast," said Braun. "Can we pick out what the very first split is? The answer is that for the first time, using whole genomes, it appears we can."
From hummingbirds to herons, 95 percent of avians belong to an order called neoaves (nee-oh-AY-veez). Of this group, 90 percent belong to a group called Passerea and 5 percent called Columbea comprising doves, flamingos and grebes.
"Flamingos and grebes are enough of an odd couple," said Braun. "Throw in a dove, and that's a really odd collection."
The genomic evidence belies common inference that birds of a feather flock together. The Columbea group shows a kinship between water birds and land birds.
One might assume the duck to be closely related to other water birds, but it's on a separate branch of the tree altogether. It was once assumed that grebes and loons belonged together because they're both foot-propelled divers. Like the 2008 study, this study shows otherwise.
Braun, along with Eric Triplett from the UF Department of Microbiology and Cell Science, also were principal investigators comparing three species of crocodilians -- the American alligator, saltwater crocodile and Indian gharial. The inclusion of the crocodilians not only provided a study in contrast but also provided researchers with the ability to reconstruct part of the genome of the common ancestor of archosaurs, the group that includes crocodilians, birds and extinct dinosaurs.
Whereas birds evolved rapidly, crocodilians evolved slowly. The DNA of slowly-evolving organisms is a gold mine for researchers as it allows them to find more things in the genetic structure. Braun looked for evidence of ancient viruses in the genomes in an effort led by Alex Suh from Uppsala University in Sweden.
"We were able to see evidence of viral infections that occurred during the age of the dinosaurs. The oldest we found is 200 million years old," said Braun. "The fact that you can find ancient viruses in genomes is very cool."
Edward Braun | EurekAlert!
Microscope measures muscle weakness
16.11.2018 | Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
Good preparation is half the digestion
16.11.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Stoffwechselforschung
Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have captured a difficult-to-view singular event involving "magnetic reconnection"--the process by which sparse particles and energy around Earth collide producing a quick but mighty explosion--in the Earth's magnetotail, the magnetic environment that trails behind the planet.
Magnetic reconnection has remained a bit of a mystery to scientists. They know it exists and have documented the effects that the energy explosions can...
Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.
Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...
Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.
In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...
On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.
When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure
Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...
09.11.2018 | Event News
06.11.2018 | Event News
23.10.2018 | Event News
16.11.2018 | Health and Medicine
16.11.2018 | Life Sciences
16.11.2018 | Life Sciences