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Biologists merge methods, results from different disciplines to find new meaning in old data
Date:1/11/2010

ing of how major geologic events can increase or reduce biodiversity, the realization that near-shore environments produce a disproportionately large share of evolutionary novelty, and other findings," Sidlauskas said. "It also spawned a new field of synthetic paleobiology."

Sepkoski's data aggregation is one of four methods of synthesis the authors say can transform science. The others, including examples, are:

  • Conceptual synthesis: The emerging discipline of evolutionary medicine is one example of how linking concepts from two distinct fields can yield new ways to approach scientific problems. For example, a recent study linked an increase in asthma rates to immune responses that might originally have helped our ancestors fend off parasites.

  • Integrating methods: Integrating approaches and analyses from two distinct fields such as genetics and evolutionary biology has led to new ways to use modern DNA sequences. For example, researchers can now look into the past to understand the origin of genomes and reconstruct how their structure has changed over millions of years.

  • Re-use of results: The authors also review a pair of landmark studies that after combining hundreds of previous results found that climate change alters species' distribution, abundance and morphology. These synthetic studies gathered more than 2,300 citations in just five years and substantially informed the current United States government policy on climate change.

Despite the promise, there are a number of cultural barriers to pursuing this kind of science, the researchers say. For one, it is difficult for young scientists to find appropriate training. In addition, peer review and journal publication tend to emphasize the analysis of new data rather than old, they argue. Funding from state and federal agencies is more frequently directed toward more conventional approaches, not to mention the institutional challenges w
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Contact: Brian Sidlauskas
brian.sidlauskas@oregonstate.edu
541-737-1939
National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent)
Source:Eurekalert

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