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SDSC's CIPRES Science Gateway clarifies branches in evolution's 'tree of life'
Date:7/3/2012

He studies the divergence of tree species in North America. "We use GenBank and other sequence databases to gather the data, and free software is available to edit the sequences," he said. "But the process is so computationally intensive I could never have accomplished it on a personal computer."

Shedding new light on origins

All life forms, from simple bacteria to primates and plants, descended from a single common ancestor. A diagram of all the evolutionary relationships looks like a highly branched tree with the common ancestor at the base of the trunk, and extinct and living groups forming the branches. All living species are represented by leaves at the tips of the outermost limbs. This Tree of Life, like evolution itself, is not static; rather the branching process continues today as groups of individuals in single species, such as the Eastern Meadowlark appear to be splitting into two because of long-term geographical or environmental factors.

The phylogenetic history of each living species is contained in its DNA, and SDSC's CIPRES Gateway is helping scientists analyze all the evolutionary relationships by making it possible for them to compare similarities and differences in the DNA among large numbers of species.

Phylogenetics is essential to understanding not only the history of life on earth, but also how populations of flowering plants, insects, crustaceans, fish, fungi, insects and microorganisms slowly change in response to their surroundings.

Such studies can also shed new light on how and where lineages began after challenging long-accepted theories. Researchers, for example, are using the CIPRES Gateway to clarify the evolution of wild grapes, which University of Florida Botany Professor J. Richard Abbott wrote, "indicate that American lineages could be older than Asian." Abbott and his co-authors reported the controversial finding in a report in the February 2012 issue of Molecular Phylogenetics
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Contact: Jan Zverina
jzverina@sdsc.edu
858-534-5111
University of California - San Diego
Source:Eurekalert

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