Thirty years ago this month, researchers at the University of Illinois published a discovery that challenged basic assumptions about the broadest classifications of life. Their discovery which was based on an analysis of ribosomal RNA, an ancient molecule essential to the replication of all cells opened up a new field of study, and established a first draft of the evolutionary tree of life.
To mark the anniversary of this discovery, the university is holding a symposium Nov. 3-4 (Saturday-Sunday), with a public lecture at the Spurlock Museum on the evening of Nov. 2. Hidden Before Our Eyes: 30 Years of Molecular Phylogeny, Archaea and Evolution will detail the exacting work that led to the discovery of a third domain of life, the microbes now known as the archaea. The event will revisit the program of research that led to the discovery, explore its impact on the study of evolution, and describe the way in which genetic analysis continues to revolutionize biology, in particular microbial ecology.
In 1977, microbiology professor Carl Woese led the team that identified the archaea as a unique domain of life, distinct from bacteria and other organisms. Prior to this finding, generations of evolutionary biologists and microbiologists believed that the microbes now called archaea were simply another taxon among bacteria. They had divided all living organisms into two broad superkingdoms, or domains: the prokaryotes, which included both the true bacteria and archaea; and eukaryotes, including all animals, plants, fungi and protists (a diverse group that includes protozoans, algae, slime molds and other organisms). Some prominent biologists still hold to this classification scheme.
Woese had set out to map the evolutionary history of life by comparing RNA sequences of a molecular sequence common to all living cells: the ribosome, which manufactures a cells proteins.
Each group of organisms contains sets of genetic sequences in th
|Contact: Diana Yates|
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign