WASHINGTON Alex Pyron's expertise is in family trees. Who is related to whom, who begat whom, how did they get where they are now. But not for humans: reptiles.
In 2011, his fieldwork in Sri Lanka studying snake diversity on the island led him to confirm the identity of 60 known species of snakes. With Sri Lankan collaborators, Ruchira Somaweera, an author on snakes and expert on amphibians and reptiles, and Dushantha Kandambi, a local naturalist and snake expert, the team collected 60 species of snakes and of those, Dr. Pyron used DNA sequencing technology on 40 of them. The study led to a greater understanding of how all the snakes are related to each other and their evolutionary relationship other species globally.
"We found that Sri Lanka has been colonized by snakes at least five times by totally different snake groups, which have each diversified heavily within the island," said Dr. Pyron, the Robert Griggs Assistant Professor of Biology at George Washington University in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.
Dr. Pyron's findings were recently featured in the March edition of the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.
One finding was a blindsnake, which on its own would be noteworthy but in this case, the blindsnake had a history on the island.
"Molecular data, or DNA, has revolutionized all fields, whether finding genes for cancer or detecting new species. In my field, uses of DNA are twofold: to discover if populations are really new species and two, to determine how species are related. We were able to do both of these things in Sri Lanka. We discovered the blindsnake and we suspected it was a new species, but when we sequenced it, we discovered that it was an entirely new lineage of blindsnake. It's still a blindsnake, but a new genus, a group of blindsnakes that had never been discovered or described.
Using datasets that included equal number of genes from endemic, or native
|Contact: Latarsha Gatlin|
George Washington University