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Avian origins: new analysis confirms ancient beginnings
Date:2/5/2008

es of time they occur (or "tick") at a fairly constant rate. Molecular biologists use that rate to reconstruct evolutionary history.

"If we know, for example, that DNA sequences diverge by an average of two percent every million years, and we determine that two species differ genetically by ten percent, we can figure out that they last shared a common ancestor five million years ago," Brown said. The problem is, "different lineages can 'tick' at different rates, so applying a single rate to an entire tree could lead to very suspect results."

Fortunately, new methods exist for compensating for differing rates.

"What my colleagues and I did was apply all of these new methods to the problem of the origin of modern birds, with each method making different assumptions about how mutation rate changes across the tree," Brown said. He hoped the analysis would narrow the gap between fossil and molecular data, but in fact it only reinforced the rock-clock split by underscoring the finding that modern birds arose more than 100 million years ago.

So where does that leave the contentious camps of scientists trying to solve the puzzle of how the world's 10,000 bird species came about"

"Rather than fighting across groups, we now have the joint goal of explaining this rock-clock gap," Brown said. "Resolution of the issue will be fertile ground for future research for a while to come."


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Contact: Nancy Ross-Flanigan
rossflan@umich.edu
734-647-1853
University of Michigan
Source:Eurekalert

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